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Exploding E-Cigarettes Spur Lawsuits In Washington State

Nam Y. Huh
AP Photo
FILE - In this April 23, 2014, file photo, Daryl Cura demonstrates an e-cigarette at Vape store in Chicago.

E-cigarettes are unsafe and need more regulation; that’s the claim in lawsuits filed against  four vape shops in Washington state. But, one owner says his product is no more dangerous than any electronic device. Exploding E-Cigarettes

Last December, Sidney Hayes was on a ten minute break from his job at Burger King in Kelso, Washington when he took out an e-cigarette and brought it to his mouth. It exploded.

According to attorney Gregory Bentley, Hayes injuries included loss of teeth, disfigurement and burns to his tongue, face and right hand. 

“He’s suffering personally, emotionally and physically and will continue to do so for a long period of time," said Bentley at a press conference in Seattle.

Suits Filed Against Retail Shops

Hayes filed a suit on Thursday in Thurston County Superior Court against Vape D Lish of Longview, Washington, where he purchased the e-cigarette. 

Also filing a suit on Thursday was Marlene Rubertt. She claims Lilac City Vapor in Spokane sold her an e-cigarette that exploded in her face. She is suing the company in Spokane County Superior Court.

Olaf Eriksen is suing ecigExpress of Seattle in King County Superior Court. He had major burns on his thigh after an e-cigarette exploded in his right front pants pocket. In Clark County Superior Court, Dontae Gardner is suing Fatboy Vapors. Gardner also had an e-cigarette explode in his pocket. He required skin grafting surgery after suffering second and third-degree burns.

All the plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys Gregory Bentley of Irvine, California and James S. Rogers of Seattle. Rogers said it isn't possible to sue the actual manufacturers of e-cigarettes since most of them are located in China. That's why the suits focus on the stores here that are selling the product.

Faulty Batteries Can Explode

The difference between a regular cigarette and an e-cigarette is a lithium-ion battery. The battery heats the liquid creating the vapor that users inhale and exhale. If the battery is faulty,  it can act like a rocket in the device and explode.

E-cigarettes are a multi-billion-dollar industry, with most of the devices coming from China. But, attorney James Rogers says, for the most part, it’s completely unregulated.

“The Consumer Product Safety Commission does not have jurisdiction over these products; United States Fire Administration does not have jurisdiction over these products,” he said.

And he says even the FDA, which regulates tobacco, has limited control.

Retailer Argues Devices Are Safe, If You Are Careful

Allan Kettle owns Vape D Lish , which is being sued by Sidney Hayes. Kettle's shop sold the e-cigarette that injured Hayes. He insists there wouldn't have been a problem if Hayes had heeded the warning signs when, he believes, Hayes e-cigarette battery started to heat up. Kettle says you are warned not to use the device when that happens. He says it's much like when you get in a car. "You look and see if you have flat tires or if you feel it's kind of flat, you stop and make sure it's all right. You don't just keep driving," he said by phone from his business in Longview.

Kettle said the lithium battery in the e-cigarette is similar to what may be  in your laptop or cell phone.

Of course, as we know, some of those have had similar issues.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.