Jury awards $1.885 million when e-cigarette charger starts a fire. Riverside County.
A charger battery for an e-cigarette catches on fire when it is plugged into the USB port in an automobile. Serious burn injuries.
- Case Name: Jennifer Ries v. VAPCIGS
- Court and Case Number: Riverside Superior Court / RIC 1306769
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, September 30, 2015
- Type of Action: Products Liability
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Daniel A. Ottolia
- Plaintiffs: Jennifer Ries, 28
- Defendants: Behnam Zolghadr d/b/a VAPCIGSThe Tobacco ExpoLa Verne Carwash
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $1,885,000
- Award as to each Defendant:
All three defendants are jointly and severally liable.
All three defendants – the distributor, wholesaler, and retailer – will be subject to strict products liability for the defective product, and liable to plaintiff for the full extent of her injuries.
- Economic Damages:
$30,000 in future economic damages.
- Non-Economic Damages:
$1,855,000 including $1,640,000 in past pain and suffering, and $215,000 for future pain and suffering.
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 6 days.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 4 hours.
- Jury Polls: 12-0
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: None reported at this time.
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Shernoff Bidart Echeverria Bentley LLP by Gregory L. Bentley and Clare Lucich, Claremont.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Mokri and Associates by Brad Mokri, Santa Ana. (For VAPCIGS.)
Law Offices of Vivian Schwartz by Michael Portigal, San Bernardino. (For La Verne Car Wash and The Tobacco Expo.)
- Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Michael F. Brones, M.D., plastic surgery, Los Angeles.
Lester Zackler, M.D., psychiatry, Sherman Oaks.
- Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
Jeffrey Lulow, Ph.D., psychology, Encino.
Mark Krugman, M.D., plastic surgery, Santa Ana.
- Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Brad Avrit, PE, safety engineering, Marina del Rey.
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
On March 21, 2013, plaintiff Jennifer Ries purchased an electronic cigarette kit – the “VapCigs E-Hookah E-Cigarette Starter Kit” – from the Tobacco Expo store. The kit contained an electronic cigarette, a lithium ion battery, and a charger with a USB connector. Several days later, as plaintiff was with her husband, and sitting in the passenger seat of their car, she decided to charge the e-cigarette’s battery and plugged the charger’s USB connector into a universal car charger and then into the car’s USB power port. Liquid began dripping from the battery, and a chemical smell filled the car. Moments later, the battery exploded, spewing shards of metal throughout the car and setting plaintiff’s dress and the passenger seat on fire. Panicking, she attempted to jump from the moving car, but her husband restrained her and managed to douse the flames with an iced drink.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
Jennifer Ries sued VapCigs, the distributor of the e-cigarette kit; La Verne Car Wash, Inc., the wholesaler; and Tobacco Expo, the retailer.
She alleged that the VapCigs battery was defective and did not perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected. She further alleged that the defendants were strictly liable for failing to warn of the potential risks of the e-cigarette from reasonably foreseeable use, including charging the electronic cigarette in an automobile using the product's USB charger.
Plaintiff was prepared to show at trial that the e-cigarette’s battery was designed to be charged at less than 4.2 volts, but the voltage supplied by a universal charger in a car power port is about 5 volts. But, just before the jury was empanelled, all three defendants admitted liability – stipulating that the product was both defective and failed to provide adequate warnings. The only question that remained for the jury to decide was the nature and extent of plaintiff's damages.
- Defendant's Contentions:
On the eve of trial defendants admitted liability, but continued to dispute the nature and extent of plaintiff's injuries.
Injuries and Other Damages
- Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Second-degree burns to her legs, buttocks, and hands.
Plaintiff's husband rushed her to urgent care following the incident, where she underwent irrigation and debridement, an extremely painful process by which dead or damaged skin is medically removed. Plaintiff received treatment throughout the next month at the UC Irvine Burn Clinic.
Plaintiff also suffered severe emotional distress as a result of catching fire while trapped in a vehicle traveling 65 miles per hour, and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Before the incident plaintiff was an avid philanthropist who enjoyed mission trips, charity work, and an active outdoor lifestyle. The second-degree burns left significant scarring on her body, and she was unable to enjoy the same level of outdoor activity following the incident.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $1,640,000
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $215,000
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff §998 Demand: $299,000
- Defendant §998 Offer: $100,001