Marlene Rubertt switched to vaping about six years ago because she thought it was a healthier alternative to smoking. But last January, she discovered the e-cigarettes can do something that regular cigarettes don’t.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Spokane County Superior Court, Rubertt said she was at home on the evening of Jan. 30 watching the Zags men’s basketball team play the University of San Francisco when she brought her e-cigarette to her mouth to take a drag.
“It suddenly exploded in her mouth and face,” the lawsuit says. Some of her teeth were on the floor, some were lodged in the e-cigarette; the roof of her mouth, the inside of her nose, her face, neck and chest were burned.
Rubertt’s case is one of four announced Friday by a Seattle law firm accusing the e-cigarette industry of ignoring risks in the way vaporizing devices are constructed.
“These products are defective and dangerous,” James Rogers, an attorney for Rubertt and the other three plaintiffs, said in a statement announcing the suits.
The lawsuit alleges that the lithium-ion batteries, used in e-cigarette devices to heat liquid to vapor, carry a risk of fire and explosion. The devices are unregulated and some aren’t adequately tested, the suit adds. In two of the cases, the devices exploded while in the user’s pocket. In the cases of Rubertt and a Longview man, it exploded as the user was inhaling.
Rubertt, who works as a dental claims analyst for an insurance company, was taken to the emergency room at Holy Family Hospital after the explosion for immediate treatment and later had a series of dental surgeries to repair the damage, including a bone graft for her jaw. She had three surgical extractions of roots or broken teeth and had pieces of the plastic from the e-cigarette device removed from her upper lip. She will require additional surgery on her jaw.
“This is a disfiguring injury,” Cheryl Snow, another lawyer for Rubertt, said.
The lawsuit names Lilac City Vapor, where she bought her e-cigarette products, as well as manufacturers of the device and battery who have not yet been identified. The batteries in all four cases were manufactured in China, which also has produced defective batteries in cellphones and hover boards.
Pursuing claims against Chinese companies is difficult, but retailers or wholesalers can be held liable for the damages under state liability laws, she said..
Brad Bellinger, owner of Lilac City Vapor, said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit and only found out about it when a reporter called.
“I don’t even want to comment,” Bellinger said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
The suit asks for unspecified damages for product liability and negligence. Rubertt is still undergoing medical treatment so the full extent of the damages aren’t known, Snow said.
In the summer, the Wall Street Journal said dozens of lawsuits had been filed around the country over exploding devices. A plaintiff in one of the first cases in California was awarded $1.9 million for injuries suffered when an e-cigarette exploded and burned her leg while she was riding in a car, Snow said.