Beaufort News

Beaufort County man sues Sony after exploding e-cig battery injures leg

A Beaufort County man who said his leg is disfigured after an e-cigarette battery exploded in his pocket has filed a lawsuit against Sony, the device’s manufacturer.

The complaint, filed June 19 against Sony Electronics Inc. and Sony Corporation of America, alleges that a Sony model VTC5 18650 lithium-ion battery, which was being kept as a spare to power an e-cigarette, exploded in plaintiff Thomas Masters’ pocket, severely burning his right thigh in August 2016.

The battery was not in the e-cigarette at the time of the explosion, the complaint alleges. It was loose in Masters’ pocket, where contact with change or keys may have caused a short that led to the explosion.

Masters was taken to Coastal Carolina Hospital following the incident and eventually was transferred to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga. He has undergone several surgeries and has had skin grafts.

Masters is represented by Chris Moore, an attorney with South Carolina law firm Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman LLC, and by Louthian Law Firm P.A. They have not put a precise number on the damages they are seeking.

“He worked construction, and that type of injury to his thigh, you know? It would be hard for him to go out and work on houses,” said Moore. “He’s certainly missed some work as a result of that.”

The suit claims that the batteries used by Masters, which he received from a friend, were dangerous owing to the fact that they had no protective circuitry or internal temperature control, and that Sony sold the batteries knowing that they had manufacturing defects and did not comply with safety standards.

Many times, the battery cells used to power e-cigarettes are pulled from larger battery packs by Chinese distributors who break up the packs, repackage the cells, and sell them to American vape shops, according to Moore. Moore says that companies like Sony sell battery packs to distributors like these in bulk, and that Sony has a responsibility to know who they are selling their products to, and how they might be misused.

“The law talks about foreseeability,” said Moore. “If it is foreseeable to Sony that the individual cells might be taken out and used in an application like this, where it could have a potential for short circuiting, then they should take precautions.”

Moore claims he’s aware of “at least a dozen” similar suits currently underway in South Carolina, and his firm is representing four people injured by e-cig batteries throughout the state.

According to CNN there has been an epidemic of similar incidents. From 2009 to January of 2016 there were 134 reported cases of e-cig batteries either overheating, bursting into flames, or exploding. This drew the attention of the Food and Drug Administration, which held a workshop in April to address safety concerns.

NBC News cites instances of exploding e-cig batteries burning faces and robbing people of their eyesight.

A spokesperson for Sony said they could not comment on ongoing litigation.

Michael Olinger: 843-706-8107, @mikejolinger