4 Washingtonians sue for e-cigarette explosions
Lithium-ion batteries are blamed for the blasts
By LYNSI BURTON, SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF
Updated 4:02 pm, Thursday, October 13, 2016
Olaf Eriksen of Seattle was walking from his car to work on April 11 when his e-cigarette exploded in his pants pocket, causing his pants to catch fire. The explosion caused serious burns to his right thigh, which later grew infected and required multiple treatments at the hospital.
Four Washingtonians filed separate lawsuits against e-cigarette manufacturers Thursday claiming they suffered injuries from e-cigarette battery explosions.
The plaintiffs, from Seattle, Kelso, Vancouver and Spokane, each suffered severe burns when the lithium-ion batteries in their e-cigarette burst.
The battery-powered smoking devices are thought by many to be safer than conventional cigarettes or help people quit smoking, though the FDA has not approved that approach and the substance consumed in e-cigarettes still contain nicotine.
The e-cigarettes in these cases contained lithium-ion batteries -- the same type linked to exploding hover boards and Samsung Galaxy phones in the past year, both of which prompted recalls.
"Lithium-ion batteries have an inherent risk of fire and explosion that is dramatically increased when combined with an e-cigarette's heating element and cylindrical shape," according to a statement put forth by the attorneys ahead of Thursday's lawsuit. "There are different methods to protect against these batteries, but weak regulation and absent testing requirements leave protections up to e-cigarette manufacturers."
The Seattle complainant, Olaf Eriksen, is a 40-year-old welder at a local shipyard. He was walking from his car to work on April 11 when his e-cigarette exploded in his pants pocket, causing his pants to catch fire. The explosion caused serious burns to his right thigh, which later grew infected and required multiple treatments at the hospital.
The 23-year-old Kelso plaintiff is still recovering. Sidney Hayes took a smoke break at work on Dec. 18, 2015. As he inhaled through his e-cigarette, the device exploded in his face, knocking him backward to the ground. Hayes underwent emergency oral surgery at a Longview hospital. He received multiple surgeries to correct the damage to his mouth and teeth and will require bone-grafting surgery for dental implants.
Vancouver resident Dontae Gardner, 19, was walking to a friend's house on Feb. 26 when his e-cigarette also exploded in his pants pocket. The burst inflicted second- and third-degree burns to his right thigh, which required skin-graft surgery.
Marlene Rubertt, a 45-year-old from Spokane, was watching a Gonzaga University basketball game at home on Jan. 30 when her e-cigarette exploded in her face while she was using it. Rubertt suffered severe injuries to her mouth, face, neck and chest. She underwent multiple bone-grafting surgeries to restructure her jaw and continues to recover.
A recent study by the University of Washington Medical Center reported that e-cigarette injuries are on the rise in the Seattle area, according to Live Science. The medical center treated 15 patients for such injuries from October 2015 to June 2016. Compare that to 25 total injuries from 2009 to 2014.
Of those patients, 12 experienced burns from flames and four suffered "blast injuries." Some experienced chemical injuries from the alkaline chemicals in the battery and others exhibited "traumatic tattooing," which is what medical experts call it when foreign particles are embedded in a person's skin.
The authors of the study also noted that more than half of the injuries were to the thigh or groin, one-third of the injuries were to the hands and one-fifth of the injuries were to the face.