DO I NEED A LITHIUM-ION BATTERY LAWYER?
Lithium-ion batteries have become one of the most popular forms of power for portable consumer electronic devices. These batteries power most of the devices that we keep next to us nearly 24 hours a day, including our phones, our laptops, and our smartwatches.
Unfortunately, their growing popularity also means that injuries from lithium-ion battery explosions are on the rise. When a lithium-ion battery explodes, the consequences range from merely scary to truly catastrophic. These explosions can result in third-degree burns, and even death in some cases.
If you’re injured in a lithium-ion battery explosion or fire, it’s important to hire a lithium-ion battery injury lawyer as soon as you are injured. A firm with specific experience in the area will know how to work with you to maximize your potential claim so that you can focus on recovering from your injuries. Attorneys at Paynter Law have extensive experience litigating personal injury claims against large corporations. The firm has obtained several verdicts that are in excess of $100 million.
Paynter Law is currently litigating against LG Chem, a multibillion-dollar corporation headquartered in Korea, to recover damages caused by the allegedly negligent manufacture of lithium-ion batteries.
WHAT ARE LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES?
Lithium-ion batteries (li-ion batteries) are rechargeable batteries found in many portable electronic devices, as well as in larger products such as electric cars. Some smaller devices, like cell phones, use a single battery cell; others, such as computers, combine multiple cells into larger batteries. For example, Tesla’s Model S contains a battery made up of over 7,000 individual 18650 lithium-ion battery cells.
Each battery has two electrodes: the anode, usually made predominantly of graphite with silicon oxide, and the cathode, often made of a combination of lithium with nickel, manganese, and cobalt oxide. In between the two electrodes is something called the separator. This critical component prevents the battery from suffering from an internal short circuit—a situation where electrical current flows directly between the two electrodes—which can cause increased heat, fire, and explosions.
Because the failure of a separator can be catastrophic, it’s critical that manufacturers are extremely careful in making sure that their batteries’ separators are properly manufactured and installed. This requires meticulous manufacturing standards and quality control—especially since separator materials are often thinner than a human hair.
The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Division) and the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) continue to study the hazards of lithium-ion batteries, and have written several reports and guides to promote the safer manufacture and use of lithium-ion batteries.
HOW DO LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES CATCH ON FIRE?
Lithium-ion batteries can catch on fire in various ways, sometimes as a result of manufacturing and/or design defects. Things that can cause a lithium-ion battery to catch fire and explode include:
- Prolonged unintended contact with metallic objects that connect the two terminals of a battery, causing an external short circuit (this is why the FDA recommends keeping loose batteries in a case);
- Separators that are too thin, improperly installed, or made from flawed materials;
- Crush damage to the battery, which results in the separator being punctured and causes an internal short circuit; and
- Contamination of the battery with metallic fragments, which can puncture the separator and cause an internal short circuit.
Any of the above can cause the battery to short circuit. This in turn can cause the rapid accumulation of heat, pushing the lithium-ion battery into a condition known as thermal runaway. During thermal runaway, the temperature of a battery cell increases so rapidly that the cell is not able to dispel the increased heat. In these conditions, there can be a fiery discharge of all the energy in the battery within seconds, resulting in fire and/or explosion.
The health hazard is exacerbated with smaller products, such e-cigarettes, which are small and portable, and where the trend is to carry those in one’s pocket or purse for easy access throughout the day.
HOW COMMON ARE LI-ION BATTERIES?
Lithium-ion batteries are as commonplace as the cell phones, small electronic devices, e-cigarettes and computers that they power. They are lightweight, rechargeable, and a seemingly ideal power supply for portable electronic devices. But they have a checkered safety record—battery explosions and fires have caused billions of dollars of damage and even death.
LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES & ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES
Lithium-ion batteries are used in electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigs, vape pens, or vaping devices), which have become increasingly popular over the last decade. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices with an electric heating element called an atomizer or cartomizer which vaporizes a liquid solution (“juice”) stored in a cartridge. The vapor is then inhaled by the consumer from the mouthpiece. The heating element is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. E-cigarettes are marketed as a safer alternative to smoking because they do not burn tobacco, do not create smoke, and do not appear to pose the same risks associated with second-hand smoke.
Unfortunately, while e-cigarettes may allow users to avoid some of the concerns associated with traditional cigarettes, they still carry other risks—such as the risk of fires and explosions from the lithium-ion batteries that power them.
In October 2014, the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), released a report on electronic cigarettes, fires, and explosions. The report found twenty-five separate incidents of explosions and fires involving e-cigarettes reported in the media between 2009 and August 2014.
In July 2017, the U.S. Fire Administration updated its report. The updated report stated that, between January 2009 and December 31, 2016, 195 separate incidents of e-cigarette explosions and fires had been reported by the U.S. media.
When a lithium-ion battery catches fire or explodes, the resulting injuries can be catastrophic, especially since these batteries are often in devices that are typically used and/or stored in close proximity to the consumer’s body. For example, some users have reported fires or explosions while using e-cigarettes, resulting in severe facial injuries, including breaks, fractures, and severe burn injuries. Others have reported injuries to their legs and other lower extremities as a result of a lithium-ion battery exploding and/or catching fire in their pocket. Still others have suffered injuries to their hands, arms, and body when holding or using portable devices such as laptops and cell phones.
Injuries resulting from lithium-ion battery fires or explosions may include:
- First-, second-, and third-degree burns
- Severe pain
- Injuries to arms, hands, legs, face, or other parts of the body
- Permanent muscle or nerve damage
- Psychological injury, including post-traumatic stress disorder