Cell phone battery explosions have received increased media attention lately because of Samsung's Galaxy Note 7s which have been involved in multiple battery explosions and fires. The history of cell phone battery explosions, however, goes back to the implementation of lithium ion batteries in general, which have been used in a variety of technology for decades.
Lithium ion batteries were first developed in the 1970s but did not come into widespread popular use until the ‘90s. They are notoriously unstable and finicky due to the utilization of lithium, which is extremely volatile and wants to react with anything around it. In fact, lithium ion batteries have caused fires, accidents, and explosions in a variety of wireless devices, leading to widespread recalls of products as varied as vaporizers, hover-boards, cameras, and notebooks. Additionally, lithium ion batteries have been linked to the fatal crash of a commercial jet airplane and a cargo fire on another craft, leading to a ban on the shipment of lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger planes.
How Lithium Batteries Work
Even though there are inherent dangers of producing and using these kinds of batteries, companies continue to include them in their products because they are cheap, powerful, and can hold a charge for a long time, even while devices are standing idle. Lithium batteries, like almost all batteries, function by “storing energy and releasing it through controlled chemical reactions.” They have two electrodes called the “cathode” and the “anode” which are similar to the plus and minus sides of the battery you might use in your tv remote. These two electrodes are where electrical energy enters and leaves the battery. The lithium moves between the cathode and the anode alternatively as the battery's energy is used and then recharged.
The most important part of the setup for the battery to function correctly is that the electrodes must be separated. When a direct connection is made between the two electrodes, the battery “short circuits” and this causes the battery to overheat quickly. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as “thermal runaway.” Other factors that contribute to or can cause thermal runaway include overcharging, prolonged and extreme external heat (like leaving your phone inside a hot car in summer), using non-regulated or knock-off chargers, or dropping a phone. Errors in manufacturing, however, create a situation in which small mishaps can have catastrophic consequences like explosions or fires. For example, if tiny scraps of metal enter the battery while it is being produced, the pieces can line up to create a direct connection between the two electrodes. Faulty programming can also cause the accidents.
Recent Cases of Exploding Cell Phone Batteries
Almost all injuries associated with exploding cell phones are burns caused either directly by the phone's contact with the skin or by the fires that occur from the phone's extreme heat. Often, overheating or explosion of the phone's battery will ignite fabric such as beds, car upholstery, or clothing near the device. Multiple cases of this phenomenon have occurred in 2016, many of which were associated with Samsung's Galaxy Note 7. In fact, there have been 35 separate reported incidents of the phone exploding and/or catching fire to the objects around it.
In September of 2016, an exploding cell phone battery caused a massive fire which engulfed a South Carolina family's Jeep and part of their garage when they left a Galaxy Note 7 on the dashboard of the vehicle. Luckily, no one was injured.
Just days later, a child in Brooklyn, New York suffered burns on his hands and body after a Galaxy Note 7 exploded in his hands while he was playing with it. He was taken to a local medical center for treatment and reportedly did not want to go near or see cell phones after the incident.
Around the same time, a man in California suffered second and third-degree burns on his leg after his Galaxy Note 7 exploded in his right front pocket. Daniel Ramirez says he first heard a whistling sound coming from the phone, then saw smoke rising from his pocket. Next, his pants and underwear caught on fire, engulfing his leg and even melting the cloth into his flesh.
United States regulators have recalled a million units of the affected phones to repair their batteries, and the South Korean company has discontinued the production of the model. However, although the Galaxy Note 7 has brought the issue to the media due to the particularly horrific frequency of accidents associated with this particular model, other models pose similar risks
For example, in February of 2015, a man in Long Island suffered third-degree burns on his leg when his Apple iPhone 5C exploded in his pocket. The 29-year-old was in the hospital for 10 days following the explosion, which occurred when he was picking his keys up from the floor.
In a similar incident, a 13-year-old in Maine sustained minor burns after her iPhone 5C exploded in her back pocket during class. According to witnesses, the girl heard a pop and smoke started to issue from her pants. She dropped to the ground to roll, believing she was on fire. Luckily, with the help of her teacher and classmates, she was able to remove the pants that contained the melting phone and did not suffer severe injuries.
Contact A Personal Injury Attorney
Victims who have experienced the trauma of a cell phone battery explosion will likely have to deal with the long-term effects of burn injuries, which may include extensive hospital stays, scarring, and disfiguration. In addition, the damage done to a victim's property by the ensuing fire can be extensive, and lost items of sentimental value can never be replaced.
One of the scariest parts of a cell phone battery explosion is that this device which so many of us use on a daily basis could contain the potential for such severe and lasting damage. The psychological effects of cell phone battery fires and explosions, therefore, can be substantial, and also warrant compensation.
If you or a loved one has undergone the traumatic experience of a cell phone battery explosion, you deserve the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney. At the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, we understand how to protect your interests and fight for an award that fairly compensates your injuries. Call us today at (303) 835-2223 or contact us online.