Officials have determined that an exploding vape pen killed a Florida man earlier this month. This incident is believed to be the first death caused by a vaping product in the United States.
Exploding Vape Pen Kills Man, Starts Fire
On May 5, 2018, firefighters found the body of 38-year-old Tallmadge D’Elia, a television producer, in the burning bedroom of his family’s home in St. Petersburg, FL. At the time, fire officials noted “extensive” fire damage in the bedroom, but minimal smoke.
An autopsy report released on May 15 blamed an exploding vape pen for D’Elia’s death. Specifically, the cause of death was listed as “projectile wound of head.”
According to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner, the deceased’s vape pen exploded into multiple pieces, shooting at least two fragments into his head. D’Elia also suffered burns on approximately 80 percent of his body.
The death has been ruled accidental.
First Vaping Death in the United States?
Officials believe that this recent vape pen explosion may represent the first vaping-related death in the United States. According to a report from the US Fire Administration, from 2009 through 2016, there were 195 incidents in which an electronic cigarette exploded or caught fire. 128 of these incidents involved fires started on nearby objects.
The study found that vaping device explosions usually occur suddenly, and they are “accompanied by loud noise, a flash of light, smoke, flames, and often vigorous ejection of the battery and other parts.”
The incidents detailed in the report resulted in 133 injuries, 38 of which were classified as severe. In 2015, for example, an exploding vape pen broke the neck and shattered the teeth of a 29-year-old man in Colorado.
However, there had been no domestic vaping deaths recorded – at least until now.
Battery Likely at Fault
The cause of the recent explosion has yet to be determined. The exploding vape pen was a so-called mechanical mod, meaning that it drew power directly from the battery and did not regulate the voltage in the same way as other e-cigarettes. According to the American Vaping Association, most other e-cigarettes have additional safety features, such as computer chips.
The deceased’s vape pen was manufactured in the Philippines and distributed by Smok-E Mountain. A representative for the company insisted that its devices do not explode, instead suggesting that the issue may have been with the battery.
The US Fire Administration would likely agree since its report largely blamed exploding vape pen incidents on the prevalence of lithium-ion batteries.
“No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to the human body,” the report said. “It is this intimate contact between the body and the battery that is most responsible for the severity of the injuries that have been seen. While the failure rate of the lithium-ion batteries is very small, the consequences of a failure, as we have seen, can be severe and life-altering for the consumer.”
The Danger of Lithium-Ion Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries power a majority of our consumer electronic devices. Why do they so frequently explode? According to analyst Claire Curry at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the explosive potential comes from the lithium itself.
“Lithium is very reactive, quite dangerous, and not stable on its own,” said Ms. Curry. “So lithium-ion batteries combine the lithium with other metals to try to stabilize the lithium, while not reducing the energy density.” As such, lithium-ion batteries have a natural tendency to overheat, often with very dangerous results for consumers.
Approximately 660 million lithium-ion cells were produced in 2012 alone. Due to the widespread use of lithium-ion batteries, e-cigarettes and other vaping devices are not the only consumer products with a significant risk of self-immolation.
In 2016, for example, Samsung recalled its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone after 35 of them reportedly caught fire or exploded. When a reissued version of the device also showed a tendency to self-ignite, Samsung took the product off the market permanently. In addition to the Galaxy Note 7, other lithium-ion-powered electronics that have reportedly caught fire, including laptops and “hoverboards.”
Preventing Vape Pen Explosions
After reading about this tragic death from an exploding vape pen, you may be surprised to learn how little regulated the vaping industry is in the United States, even though e-cigarettes and similar devices have become commonplace.
According to the Fire Administration report, there are currently no regulations that apply to the safety of the batteries or the electronic mechanics of e-cigarettes, though they are reportedly being considered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In the absence of adequate regulation of e-cigarettes and other similar devices, the FDA offers the following safety recommendations for the home vaping enthusiast:
- Use vapes with safety features, such as a protection against overcharging.
- Keep your vapes covered and away from batteries and loose coins.
- Only use the approved charger that came with the vape pen.
- Replace batteries if they become wet or damaged.
- Do not charge your vaping device overnight.
Defective Product Litigation
We are surrounded by products in our modern world. They are manufactured by people we have never met in parts of the world we have never seen. We trust that these products are safe, that they are manufactured with the best materials and under the best conditions by companies with the best of intentions.
But what if they are not? What if you or a loved one is severely injured or even killed by an exploding vape pen or a malfunctioning household item? Who should be held accountable in the case of a defective product injury?
At times like these, injured people may find that they could benefit from the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer, like the Chicago personal injury lawyers at GWC Injury Lawyers, Illinois’ largest Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firm.
If you have been wrongfully injured, whether because of an exploding vape pen or in some other way, please contact GWC today to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.