Four Northwest residents who claim they were hurt when e-cigarettes they were using caught fire or exploded said Thursday they’ll sue the manufacturers and sellers of the devices.
Four Northwest residents who claim they were hurt when e-cigarettes caught fire or exploded said Thursday they’ll sue the manufacturers and sellers of the popular vaping devices.
The alleged victims, from Washington and Oregon, suffered severe burns and other injuries, including damage that required skin and bone grafts.
They held a news conference with their lawyer, James S. Rogers, of Seattle, who has joined with Gregory Bentley, an Irvine, Calif., lawyer who represents dozens of people who claim they’ve been harmed when the lithium-ion batteries in defective devices misfired. A woman in Riverside, Calif., was awarded nearly $1.9 million by a jury last year after she sued the manufacturer, wholesaler and the store where she bought an e-cigarette device that burned her, leaving permanent scars.
“These batteries are a ticking time bomb and they’re causing harm all over the country,” Bentley told reporters.
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The lawsuits claim the devices were defective and violated the Washington Product Liability Act
Those who planned to file lawsuits Thursday included Olaf Eriksen, 40, of Seattle, who was hurt April 11, when an e-cigarette device exploded in his pants pocket, according to a complaint. He planned to sue EXC LLC, a company that does business as EcigExpress in Seattle, plus 100 unnamed defendants, in King County Superior Court.
Dontae Gardner, 19, of Scappose, Ore., suffered burns to his right thigh that required a skin graft when a battery exploded in his pocket Feb. 26, in Vancouver, Wash., according to a complaint. He planned to sue Fatboy Vapors of Gresham, Ore., in Clark County Superior Court.
Sidney Hayes, 23, of Cowlitz County, suffered traumatic injuries to his mouth, teeth and face last Dec. 18 after changing the battery on an e-cigarette and beginning to inhale, according to a complaint. He planned to sue Vape D Lish LLC of Centralia in Thurston County Superior Court.
Marlene Rubertt, 45, of Spokane, was using an e-cigarette Jan. 30, when the device exploded in her face, causing severe injuries, including burns to her neck, chest, face and the roof of her mouth, a complaint stated. She planned to sue Lilac City Vapor of Spokane in Spokane County Superior Court.
They’re all part of a small but growing group of people in the region and beyond who have suffered sometimes-gruesome injuries when the devices have exploded in their hands or caught fire in their pockets. In the past year, at least 21 people have been treated or hospitalized in the burn center at Harborview Medical Center for injuries involving e-cigarettes, trauma officials said.
“The prevalence of these injuries is not decreasing,” Dr. Elisha Brownson, a burn and critical-care fellow at Harborview, said in June.
This month, Brownson and colleagues published a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, complete with disturbing photographs, to warn public-health officials about the potential dangers of what are formally called “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” or ENDS. Those include not only flame burns but also chemical burns and blast injuries, the letter indicated.
“These patients often require complex multidisciplinary care involving emergency medicine providers, plastic surgeons, burn care providers, vocational counselors, and psychologists,” Brownson wrote. “Many of these patients are young, but we are seeing an expanding age spectrum, indicating a growing use of ENDS and the need for broad public health efforts.”
Reports of such incidents have been on the rise since e-cigarettes were introduced in 2007 and rapidly attracted users, including many who use the inhaled nicotine vapor produced by the devices as a substitute for tobacco cigarettes.
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tracked 134 reports of e-cigarettes overheating, igniting or exploding between September 2009 and January 2016. Those figures very likely underestimate the true number, agency officials said.
But critics counter that such reports are only a fraction of the estimated 13 percent of U.S. adults who have tried e-cigarettes at least once and nearly 4 percent who are regular users, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In June, the FDA finalized a sweeping new rule that extends the agency’s authority to all tobacco products — and includes e-cigarettes in that category. The agency plans to look closely at issues surrounding overheating and exploding batteries, a spokesman said.
Reports of injuries are dismissed, however, by vaping-industry advocates who say fires and explosions can occur with any lithium-ion battery, including, for instance, the batteries in the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone discontinued this week.
But those who claim they’ve been harmed by the devices, like the four Northwest victims, hope to be compensated for their pain. The lawsuits all seek damages for pain and suffering, past and future medical care, property damage, legal fees and other costs.