On October 15th, an emergency order took effect banning Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones on airline flights. The phones have been banned in checked bags, carry-on bags and have also been banned as shipped air cargo.
The emergency order was issued after Samsung’s phone, which was released in August, repeatedly caused problems due to overheating batteries. The product’s flaw was one that has affected not only devices and laptops but also Tesla cars and Boeing’s 787 jetliner. Overheating lithium-ion batteries are the reason that e-cigarettes and hoverboards can’t be brought on plane, and why there have been recalls of products like hoverboards, and most recently Samsung’s flagship phone.
Just recently, a family whose million dollar house burned down after a hoverboard caught fire sued Amazon when they couldn’t track down the maker of the product (under Tennessee Law they were entitled to do so). The family bought the hoverboard in January 2016 after reports of fires in 2015. The family reportedly felt more comfortable buying the product as it contained Samsung batteries, which hadn’t been flagged as unsafe until the Note 7 drew attention to them in August this year.
Smartphones typically have a single cell, but other larger products can have many. Even NASA isn’t immune from the dangers of lithium-ion batteries: NASA’s robotic rescuer Robo-Simian exploded dramatically in a recent accident that fortunately didn’t cause injury. Because lithium batteries are lightweight and take a long time to lose their charge they are ideal for sending spacecraft on long missions, and also for shipping in bulk by manufacturers. Due to the number of cells in the robot’s battery, the NASA explosion was larger than a small fire caused by an overheating cellphone. Accidents can be caused when the current that flows across the highly flammable liquid electrolyte between the positive and negative side of the battery hits an excess of max voltage causing the battery to fail and sometimes explode. However even though the NASA battery wasn’t overcharged and was being monitored, it still failed. Early analysis indicates that one cell in the battery was damaged, which sent misleading information to the monitoring equipment causing the cells to become overcharged. NASA’s flight testing is rigorous, and an expert has suggested that this robot may not have been subjected to as stringent testing because it wasn’t built to fly. The volatility of lithium-ion batteries in everyday products show that these products may not be being handled correctly at the manufacturing stage, or that we don’t yet comprehend their potential risks. For example, even after a mass recall of the Note 7 in September, a Galaxy Note 7 device deemed “safe” by a Samsung fix reportedly caught fire on a Southwest Airlines plane. The New York Times recently drew attention to Samsung’s safety issues in numerous other areas of product safety and their opaque response to customer complaints.
When lithium-ion accidents do happen, injuries can be devastating and cause damage beyond burns. In exploding e-cigarette cases, injuries not only include burns, but also chemical burns and blast injuries. Recently, a laptop battery fire was reported to have caused chemical burns. Lithium-ion accidents can cause life-threatening or disfiguring injuries, either through explosion, chemical burns or fires started by overheating devices. If you or a loved one has been injured in a lithium-ion battery incident, please call the attorneys at Parker Scheer to receive a consultation.
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