Friday, March 10, 2017, a charging hoverboard started a fire inside a
Lexington Street row house in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The first spark
occurred a little before 8:00 p.m., and soon grew to dangerous levels,
setting off multiple alarms. Three young girls were inside the home at
the time. Firefighters arrived and rescued two females and a man by
ladder, and caught one girl who was forced to jump from a second-floor
three children were rushed to the hospital in critical condition, while
two other individuals were treated for smoke inhalation. Two of the
young girls, aged 3 and 10, suffered 95 percent full thickness burns,
and later died from their injuries. A firefighter on his way to the
blaze was also killed in a car crash.
later blamed the fire on a faulty lithium-ion
battery in the hoverboard. Though other similar fires had caused
property damage prior to this tragedy, this was the first fatal
incident. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) examined
over 60 cases of hoverboard fires since 2015, including two that
resulted in homes that were burned down. Eventually, in July 2016,
manufacturers recalled more than 500,000 hoverboards because of the risk
of battery-related fires.
aren’t the only lithium-ion battery-powered products on the market.
Lithium battery-related fires and explosions have occurred with
e-cigarettes, cell phones, computers, headphones, and more, causing
including burns, scarring, hearing and vision loss, and
disfigurement. Pittsburgh residents who were seriously injured by these
types of products are advised to speak to the lithium-ion attorneys at
Chaffin Luhana immediately.
is a Lithium-Ion Battery?
lithium-ion battery is a type of rechargeable battery that uses lithium,
the lightest of all metals, as a source of power. Lithium ions move from
the negative electrode to the positive electrode while the product is in
use, and then back from the positive to the negative during charging.
was the first company to make lithium-ion batteries widely available on
the market, but because these batteries can pack a lot of energy into a
small space, other manufacturers soon followed. Whereas an older
nickel-based battery pack would require three 1.2-volt cells, it takes
just one lithium-ion pack to produce 3.6 volts.
made lithium-ion batteries the optimal choice when it came to powering
up gadgets that we now take for granted. The batteries are in our cell
phones, laptops, headphones, tablets, and other products and they allow
manufacturers to create products in slim, small, and low-weight designs
that fit more easily into our on-the-go lifestyles.
batteries are low-maintenance, don’t require scheduled cycling to
prolong life, hold their charge better than other rechargeable
batteries, and cause little harm when disposed. But the overall design
can cause some safety concerns if manufacturers don’t include certain
the Problem with Lithium-Ion Batteries?
lithium-ion battery is inherently fragile compared to older batteries.
If manufacturers aren’t careful with their design, or if the battery is
damaged somehow, it can short-circuit, which can result in overheating
and a potential fire.
a short-circuit, one part of the battery gets too hot and can’t cool
down fast enough. This creates a chain reaction known as a “thermal
runaway” that allows heat to build up in the battery.
short-circuit may occur if the thin piece of polypropylene that
separates the electrodes is somehow moved, damaged, or poorly designed.
This would allow the electrodes to touch and quickly overheat. The large
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 cell phone recall (because of fires) has been
blamed on a faulty separator. Indeed, the plastic separator has become
thinner and thinner with new batteries as manufacturers try to get more
power out of a smaller package.
batteries are also filled with a flammable
substance that can combust quickly when heated. Exposure to oxygen
only exacerbates this problem. The substance is also mixed with a
compound that can burn human skin, making potential injuries more
when you consider how many lithium-ion batteries are in use today (over
a billion) compared to how many fires and explosions have occurred, you
realize that on the whole, these batteries are very safe. The problem
occurs when manufacturers take short-cuts.
Short Cuts Result in Consumer Injuries
showed this to be true in anApril
2015 study. Using high-tech imaging techniques, they tracked the
evolution of structural damage and subsequent overheating in lithium-ion
batteries, and found that the use of certain techniques could mitigate
processes that lead to fires and explosions.
presence of certain safety features can mitigate against the spread of
some of this thermal runaway process,” said study author Paul Shearing.
Indeed, during the study, in which the researchers purposely heated up
the batteries, not all of them failed. Some had internal safety features
that prevented dangerous reactions.
to a 2016 article inConsumer
Reports, normally, “it’s a manufacturing defect” that
causes lithium-ion batteries to explode. If the separator is too thin,
for example, and the chemicals in the battery start to heat up, that
separator can degrade and eventually fail. Uneven separators that result
in poor connectivity also increase risk of short-circuiting, as can
those move when the phone is dropped or jostled.
the chargers that come with lithium-ion-powered products are typically
safe, there are other, cheaper chargers out there that can charge up a
battery too quickly, causing a short-circuit. Yet often manufacturers
fail to warn consumers of this danger.
manufacturing or design problems, such as inadequate ventilation around
the battery, a lack of proper insulation, tiny metal fragments left
behind during production, holes in the sealing, and more can all cause
problems down the road that could create a dangerous overheating
up to manufacturers to make sure that they design and produce a battery
that is safe for its intended use. They must also warn consumers about
any safety concerns, and give them appropriate instructions for safe
operation—particularly when charging—of the product and its battery.
Products Associated with Exploding Lithium-Ion Batteries
number of products have either been recalled or highlighted because of a
risk for explosions. These include the following:
have reported these exploding during use and even when not in use. An
Alabama man, for example, sat down to eat breakfast at a friend’s
house when hise-cigarettedevice
suddenly exploded in his pocket. The device welded to his leg, causing
second-and third-degree burns. Because these devices are cylindrical,
pressure can build up quickly inside them, and those that explode can
2016, 10 firms recalled about 500,000 self-balancing
hoverboards/scooters because of fire hazards. All were manufactured in
China. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) noted that
at least 99 incident reports of the batteries exploding had been
received, with reports of burn injuries and property damage. In a
firein Harrisburg, PA, two young girls were
killed. Other recalls have followed in 2017.
computers:Sony recalled 9.6 million
computer batteries in 2006 because of explosion risks. The company
noted that faulty manufacturing had resulted in tiny shards of metal
contaminating the inside of the batteries. About half of the batteries
went into Dell computers. In January 2017,HP
recalledabout 100,000 lithium-ion batteries
used in their laptops because of fire and burn hazards. And in
Newsreported on yet another Dell
computer exploding while it was charging.
recalled 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 smartphones because of exploding
batteries in September 2016. In one instance, a woman was holding the
device in her hand when it started pouring out smoke. A manfiled
a lawsuitagainst the company after a phone
exploded in his pocket, burning his leg.
2017, a woman flying to Melbourne from Beijing fell asleep while
wearing noise-canceling headphones. Shewoke
to sounds of an explosionand found that the
battery in the headphones had burst into flames. She suffered from
serious burns on her face and hair.
products powered by these batteries have also been associated with
overheating and explosions. The batteries have been blamed, for example,
for at least two fires in Tesla electric cars.
of Injuries Associated with Lithium-Ion Batteries
exploding or burning lithium battery can cause all kinds of property
damage. It can also cause serious injuries to the person using the
product, to those standing nearby, and to those in the vicinity of any
resulting fire. Such injuries include:
and vision loss
of teeth and/or tongue
throat and esophagus
attorneys at Chaffin Luhana are actively investigating potential
lithium-ion battery lawsuits. Individuals in the Pittsburgh and Ohio
Valley areas who have used products with these batteries and then
experienced serious injuries may be able to recover damages in a
personal injury lawsuit. Call today for a free case evaluation at