PLAINSBORO — Four New Jersey residents — including two teenagers — who suffered third-degree burns when their e-cigarette batteries ignited “like a rocket” are suing the shops that sold the “defective” devices, their attorneys announced Thursday.
The manufacturers of the lithium ion batteries that power the vaping devices are also the targets of the litigation, although the attorneys acknowledged it would be tougher to hold them accountable. The batteries are made in China.
But with the burgeoning $10 billion e-cigarette industry operating without meaningful oversight yet by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, going after the retailers is the only way to draw attention to these dangerous devices, said Gregory Bentley, an Irvine, Calif. attorney who is teaming up with the personal injury firm Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville.
The lawsuit alleges the manufacturers, the distributors and the sellers should be liable because they should have known the cylinder batteries “can be shot out like a bullet or a rocket” when they malfunction, the lawsuits say.
“By filing these lawsuits, our goal is to bring attention to the problem, so the industry knows they have to do something,” said Bentley, who last year won a $1.9 million judgment against a retailer, a distributor and a wholesale company.
“My office has looked at 130 cases since the verdict last year,” Bentley said during a press conference at the Westin hotel in Princeton Forrestal Village. “There is no agency that is keeping track of this to see this is truly a hazard.”
According to the lawsuits filed in state Superior Court:
* Gregory and Stacey L. Burdash of Berlin sued Mode E. Vape Lounge, also in Berlin, which sold the e-cigarette device, and Kanger Tech, the Chinese company which manufactured the battery and charger.
Burdash, 40, said the battery exploded in his pants pocket on Sept. 29, setting his leg on fire and causing third-degree burns to 20 percent of his body. He has not been able to work, and will need skin graft surgery, attorney Dominic Sanginiti Jr. said.
“I have had incredible pain since then. I have not been able to return to work, and as the sole breadwinner in the family, it hurts you mentally and physically,” Burdash said. “I want people to be aware of the dangers of vaping and how harmful this can be. I want to this to be made safer for the future.”
A man reached at the Mode E. Vape Lounge who identified himself as an owner said he was aware of the lawsuit and deferred comment to his partner, who did not return a phone call.
* William D. Gant of Cumberland County has already filed suit in Atlantic County against Vortex Vapor in Galloway, which sold him the e-cigarette battery that exploded in his pants on March 18, 2015. The explosion “caused a scathing hot mixture of shrapnel and battery acid that burned through his pants, thigh, right shoe and onto his foot,” according to the lawsuit. He suffered third-degree burns.
“His foot will require a skin graft,” Sanginiti said. “He has been hospitalized twice. He has difficulty putting on shoes.”
Vortex Vapor did not return a call or email seeking comment.
* Two unidentified teenagers from Hopewell Township separately sued Sports Depot & Village Tobacco and the Columbus Farmers Market, where they both purchased vaping products made by GP Custom of China.
M.C., a 16-year-old girl “was holding the vaping device near her face when the battery exploded, flew at her mouth and blew out her four top teeth,” Sanginiti said.
She required immediate plastic surgery for her lips and mouth, and lost her vision for three to four days because she had suffered “corneal abrasions,” he said. She will need future bone grafts for her jaw and extensive dental work, he added.
A 17-year-old boy from Hopewell Township suffered extensive burns on his arms and torso after the battery inside his e-cigarette device exploded. “The pain was unbearable,” according to the lawsuit.
The owner of Sports Depot & Tobacco Village who identified himself as BJ said he was not aware of the lawsuits or of the teen-agers’ injuries. “We don’t sell that kind of battery, I don’t think,” he said.
E-Cigarettes may be the reason smoking of regular cigarettes among teenagers is at an all-time low. Nearly a quarter of high school students surveyed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had vaped during the previous 30 days, the agency said last summer.
However, e-cigs are beginning to show signs of being a fad whose cachet is waning. A recently released University of Michigan survey of nearly 50,000 middle school and high school students shows a dip in vaping. Along with that has come a slight rise in the number of teens who perceive vaping may pose a risk of harm.
“Whether adolescent vaping has peaked or only paused is something we will be able to determine in the coming years,” said Richard Miech, a senior investigator in the Monitoring the Future project. “In the past, we have seen new drugs follow a pattern in which use increases at a fast pace during a honeymoon period and then reverses course and declines as knowledge of the substance’s drawbacks became known.”