Amid increasing concerns about the potential risk of respiratory illness and death associated with vaping, e-cigarette users are urged to remember that there are other potential side effects to watch out for, including the risk of e-cigarettes exploding during use and causing serious injuries. According to a case report published by the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2019, a vape pen exploded in the face of Austin Burton, a 17-year-old Nevada boy, breaking his jaw and blowing out several of his teeth. If you or someone you know has suffered a major injury from an exploding vape pen, contact an experienced product liability lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. You may have grounds to file a lawsuit against the e-cigarette manufacturer, in order to pursue financial compensation for your injuries and losses.
Burton’s 2018 e-cigarette incident highlights a little-known danger of vape pens – that the devices can unexpectedly explode, possibly causing third-degree burns, tissue damage, tooth loss or broken bones. In October 2016, doctors at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle reported treating 15 patients who suffered injuries from exploding e-cigarettes during a nine-month period, including chemical burns, flame burns and blast injuries to the hands, face, thighs and groin. In Burton’s case, the pen exploded in his mouth and the force of the explosion was so powerful that it broke his lower jaw. “He was [using] this vape pen, and it blew up in his face while he was [using] it,” said Dr. Katie Russell, a pediatric surgeon at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and one of the doctors who treated the teen after the incident. Doctors had to insert a two-inch plate in Burton’s lower jaw to stabilize the fractured bones and his jaw was wired shut for six weeks. After that, he needed another surgery to get the wires removed. Since the explosion, Burton has fully recovered from his injuries, but he is still missing several teeth.
An exploding electronic cigarette may sound like a freak accident that happens very rarely, but the danger is very real and is gaining more attention as a cause for serious concern. More and more often, e-cigarette users are suffering severe injuries from seemingly inexplicable e-cigarette explosions and as the devices become increasingly popular, the problem is expected to become more prevalent. Consider this: Between 2009 and 2016, there were 195 reports of explosions and fires involving e-cigarette devices, resulting in 133 injuries and 38 hospitalizations. Between 2015 and 2017, U.S. hospitals reported a whopping 2,033 injuries from vaping.
The problem with e-cigarette devices unexpectedly exploding centers around the lithium-ion batteries that power them. The FDA says the batteries can overheat inside modified vape devices, causing the e-cigarettes to explode while charging, while in users’ pockets or even while being used. In 2017, the FDA released a series of tips to help avoid vape battery explosions and that same year, a report from FEMA’s U.S. Fire Administration warned that malfunctioning lithium-ion batteries are particularly dangerous in vape pens because the way the devices are structured makes them more likely than other products to behave like “flaming rockets” if the batteries overheat and explode, potentially causing flame burns, chemical burns and blast injuries. Even so, there are no product safety standards in place for e-cigarettes and the FDA doesn’t require testing for devices that were on the market before August 2016.
Thankfully for Austin Burton, he survived his exploding e-cigarette, but other users haven’t been so lucky. Earlier this year, a 24-year-old Texas man died when an e-cigarette exploded in his car and cut a major artery in his neck and last year, a 38-year-old Florida man died from what doctors called a “projectile wound to the head” and burns to 80% of his body from an exploding e-cigarette. “All of these people were using these e-cigarette devices because they thought they were safer,” says Callie Thompson, an assistant professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University’s Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, who has seen the damage an exploding e-cigarette can do firsthand. “That to me is what really sticks out: These were marketed as a very healthy, low-risk way to stop smoking. And without the regulation on the devices, they’re not necessarily safer.”