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E-cigarette explosions prompt three lawsuits in California

Vicente Garza was getting ready for bed in his Bakersfield home when he decided to use an electronic cigarette.

He lifted the device to his mouth, pushed the vapor button and started to inhale. Then it exploded near his face, badly burning his mouth and dominant left hand, which was holding the device. Doctors amputated Garza’s left index finger, and he had to undergo immediate surgery on his tongue after the Oct. 16 incident. He still can barely eat.

Garza’s attorney, Gregory L. Bentley, said Thursday that he had filed a product liability lawsuit against the e-cigarette’s manufacturer and designer, Flawless Vapes & Supplies, LLC; the Bakersfield store where Garza bought the battery and device, Luxor Cafe & Vape Lounge; and the Bakersfield store where he bought his e-cigarette charger, Vape Fame.

“I never in my life thought that something like this would happen,” Garza, 23, said at a Glendale news conference Thursday.

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Garza’s is one of three e-cigarette explosion lawsuits filed by Bentley this week in Kern and Orange counties.

“E-cigarette explosions are becoming all too common as this industry is taking off,” Bentley said. “Consumers have the right to expect that products have been properly designed, manufactured and tested for safety before they are put into the marketplace.”

The suits allege the e-cigarettes and their components, including lithium ion batteries and chargers, were unsafe and that the businesses in the supply chains failed to properly warn of the defects.

Employees at Luxor Cafe & Vape Lounge and Vape Fame said they were unaware of Garza’s lawsuit. Other defendants in his and the other suits could not be reached for comment.

E-cigarettes constitute a multibillion-dollar industry, with millions of users, according to a 2014 report on e-cigarette fires and explosions by the U.S. Fire Administration. The report said e-cigarettes use lithium ion batteries that include flammable liquid electrolytes that can explode when they overheat, such as when they receive too much voltage while charging.

Despite huge sales, the fledgling industry is largely unregulated, with few safeguards for consumer protection, Bentley said.

In September, a Riverside County Superior Court jury awarded a client of Bentley's, Jennifer Ries, nearly $1.9 million after she sued the distributor, wholesaler and store where she bought vaping devices that exploded. She was badly burned after a charging e-cigarette battery caught fire in her car. Bentley said that was the first e-cigarette explosion lawsuit to be tried in the country and that his phone has since been ringing nonstop with similar cases.

Bentley this week filed a suit in Kern County on behalf of Bakersfield resident Gregory Phillips, Jr., whose leg was burned in September when an e-cigarette battery exploded in his pocket. He required skin grafts. Phillips is suing the device’s seller, Bakersfield store Cigarette World 4.

Bentley also filed suit this week in Orange County Superior Court on behalf of retired former Los Angeles Galaxy soccer player Daniel Califf. In February, Califf was using an e-cigarette when it exploded near his face, blasting a large hole in his cheek. It gave him a concussion and set the room on fire, the suit alleges. Califf is suing the distributor of one of the device’s components, Washington-based UVAPER Inc., and the seller, Newport Beach-based 32nd Street Vapors, which closed but is now doing business as R&D Creations, according to the attorney.

Twitter: @haileybranson

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