An Arlington man is suing the store where he bought two e-cigarette batteries after the devices exploded in his pocket, leaving him with severe burns on the lower part of his body.
Attorneys for David Powell and his wife, Shaye, filed a lawsuit in Tarrant County civil court this week against Vixen Vapors, a local chain that specializes in e-cigarettes and associated products. The family is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
Powell, who bought two rechargeable lithium-ion high-drain batteries at the chain’s Pantego store, had them in the front pocket of his shorts while playing kickball with a niece and a nephew at his grandparents’ house last year, according to Jim Ross, his attorney.
The batteries, which Ross said were not hit during the game, “suddenly and unexpectedly exploded, causing a scathing hot mixture of shrapnel” to burn the flesh on Powell’s thighs and genitals, according to court documents.
“He described it like those Fourth of July sparklers,” Ross said. “A hot, fizzing kind of explosion. Not a loud kaboom, [more like] a sizzling star. The sparks were shooting from his crotch area.”
Powell was treated for first- and second-degree burns at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.
Jason Amon, the attorney for Vixen Vapors, made it clear Tuesday that the company did not make the battery involved in the case. Nonetheless, the company is taking steps to address the situation by “working on the displays for all of our locations.”
While the batteries were not pulled from the shelves, Vixen Vapors has posters in its stores advising people to store the batteries in a safety box when not in use. Employees were also trained, before the incident, to tell customers how to handle the batteries and to offer a safety box with each purchase, Amon said.
“Vixen Vapors is committed to producing and selling the highest-quality e-cigarette products, and we work hard to educate our customers on their proper use and storage,” Amon said. “We believe that if a product is defective, then its manufacturer should take responsibility.”
Powell’s lawsuit says Vixen Vapors sold batteries that were “unreasonably dangerous” and “failed to conform to the applicable design standards and specifications.”
The lawsuit, which will try to determine where Vixen Vapors got the batteries, also says that there were safer designs and that the store should have warned consumers about possible hazards.
E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, are battery-operated and often look like real cigarettes. They are built around a heating element, a cartridge that contains nicotine and other chemicals, and an atomizer that converts the chemicals into vapor for the user to inhale.
Until contacted by the Powells, Ross was unaware of this problem with e-cigarette batteries.
“When we were contacted by these folks, I had never heard of this happening before. But then I started Googling it and found out this has happened a number of times,” he said.
A report from the U.S. Fire Administration in October discussed the dangers associated with e-cigarette fires and explosions. It quoted media reports citing at least 25 incidents involving e-cigarette batteries from 2009 to 2014.
Media reports generally characterized those incidents as explosions accompanied by a loud noise, a flash, smoke, flames, and the vigorous ejection of the battery and other parts.
Eighty percent of the incidents reportedly occurred while the batteries were being charged. A variety of charging sources were reported, including laptop, automobile and desktop USB ports.
While the failure of lithium-ion batteries is rare, the report says, it is reasonable to expect the number of failures to increase as e-cigarettes grow in popularity. It recommended that manufacturers consider changing to a different style of electrical connection.
Ross said that more needs to be done to regulate how these devices are made and that steps need to be taken to determine who is going to oversee regulation.
“Are we putting a product on the market that is dangerous to people and we’re not doing anything about it?” Ross asked.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714