An e-cigarette exploded and tore through a Santa Ana, CA man’s eye, smashed two cheekbones and then started a fire, according to a lawsuit against vaping retailers and distributors. The victim, Joseph Cavins, and his wife of 32 years say injuries from vaping are a real and growing problem in an industry whose U.S. sales have ballooned from $20 million in 2008 to $2.5 billion in 2014.
As reported by Courthouse News Service, Cavins, a public school counselor and private therapist, began vaping in 2014 to try to wean himself off chewing tobacco. While working at his computer on April 15 of this year with his e-cigarette beside him, it “suddenly exploded, striking Joseph in the left eye, continuing past his head, hitting the ceiling, ricocheting off the wall and landing on top of the computer station, where it started a fire,” he says in his May 19 complaint in Orange County Court. It smashed his orbital and sinus bones, “left several pieces of shrapnel inside the eyeball itself [and] Joseph lost his left eyeball as a result.”
His wife extinguished the fire and drove him to two hospitals for seven hours of surgery, after which doctors said it would be safer to remove his left eyeball to avoid the possibility that his body’s immune system would attack his right eye as well, leaving him blind. He will need more surgery to fix his broken bones, reconstructive surgery on his sinus cavity, and he and his wife have both missed work.
Cavins sued four distributors and retailers: The Vapor Loft, VapeItUp, Lan & Mike International Trading dba Vapor DNA, and Vaping American Made Products — all California LLCs.
Most vaping machines are made in China. They consists of a tank or cartridge to hold the liquid nicotine and flavorings, an atomizer, and a lithium-ion battery to heat the juice. It’s the batteries that “have an inherent risk of fire and explosion” and have repeatedly caused “explosions, fires and serious injury,” Cavins says in the complaint.
Last week, Courthouse News reported a lawsuit from a San Diego man who said his e-cigarette exploded and smashed four teeth. Cavins’ lawsuit cites the case of a New Jersey man whose vape exploded in his pocket and set his pants on fire. A medical report in that case, and others, cited “‘poor design, use of low-quality materials, manufacturing flaws and defects, and improper use and handling, which can all contribute to a condition known as “thermal runaway,” where the internal battery temperature can increase to the point of causing a battery fire or explosion,'” Cavins says.
In essence, the tube functions like a gun barrel, and “the battery can be propelled like a bullet or rocket,” Cavins says, citing an October 2014 reports from the U.S. Fire Administration, “Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions.”
The complaint continues: “There are different methods to protect against these batteries, but because of a lack of regulation, the protections are left up to the e-cigarette manufacturers.”
The 26-page lawsuit, which contains a wealth of information about the vaping industry, claims, as have critics of vaping, that the electronic smokes are aimed at children. “Since e-cigarette marketing is completely unfettered and unregulated, e-cigarette products reach minors and people who would never smoke a traditional cigarette,” the complaint states.
“The variety of flavors offered, including root beer float, bubble gum, and cotton candy, further target and spark the intrigue of minors.” Cavins attributes that allegation to a 2015 report from the California Department of Public Health: “State Health Officer’s Report on E-Cigarettes: A Community Health Threat.”
Cavins also blames the unrestricted advertising of vaping, on TV and radio, “where tobacco advertisements have been banned for more than 40 years.” And, he says, vape smoke often contains lead, nickel, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, which are carcinogenic.
Cavins and his wife Patricia seek punitive, special and general damages, property damages, interest and legal costs for product liability and loss of consortium. They are also seeking punitive damages for strict product liability, negligent product liability and loss of consortium.
A representative for The Vapor Loft said the company is aware of the lawsuit and declined to comment.