Almost every portable electronic device in use today has a lithium-ion battery. As device manufacturers race to build more products, they may use less reliable batteries, or take short-cuts when it comes to building or installing them. A fire or explosion resulting from a malfunctioning lithium battery has the potential to cause catastrophic results for the victim. These explosions can produce third-degree burns or even death in some cases.

What are lithium ion batteries?

Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable. These devices are not only found in common products such as electronic devices, but also in bigger ticket items such as electronic cars. Many times multiple battery cells are combined into larger batteries for devices such as in computers.

Each one of these batteries consists of two electrodes: the anode, manufactured primarily of graphite with silicone oxide, and a cathode that often consists of a combination of lithium with cobalt oxide and manganese. A separator is present between the two electrodes. This is the component that stops a lithium battery from sustaining an internal short circuit – a condition that involves the flow of electrical current between two electrodes, which can lead to the excessive build-up of heat, fire, an explosion.

Due to the fact that any failure of the separator can cause fire and explosion, it is vital that lithium-ion battery manufacturers ensure their devices are manufactured and installed properly. In order to achieve this result, exception quality control and manufacturing standards must be followed, particularly in light of the fact that these separator materials are sometimes thinner than a single strand of human hair.

The way lithium ion batteries catch fire?

There are various ways that a lithium-ion battery can catch on fire. Design and manufacturing defects can play a significant part. Some of the ways in which a lithium-ion battery can catch fire include:

  • Separators made from defective materials or those that are improperly installed or too thin.
  • Extended and unintentional contact with metal objects that link the two terminals of the battery, resulting in an external short circuit. Therefore it is wise to, according to the FDA, to keep loose batteries stored in a case.
  • Battery contamination from its exposure to metallic fragments, which can pierce the separator and result in an internal short circuit.
  • Crushing damage to the battery which causes a puncturing of the separator and an internal short circuit.

When any of the above causes a lithium-ion battery to short circuit, a rapid increase in heat can occur, advancing the battery into a condition referred to as thermal runaway. During this condition, the heat in the battery increases so fast that it cannot release the increasing heat. This can result in a fiery discharge from the battery in mere second, leading to fire and/or explosion.

Catastrophic injuries may result from a fire or explosion emanating from a lithium-ion battery, because many times these batteries are inside of devices held close to the body. For example, some have experienced injuries to their arms, hands, and body when holding a cell phone or laptop. Others have sustained serious burns to lower parts of the body, such as the legs, when a lithium-ion battery from an e-cigarette exploded and caught fire in their pockets.

At Cunningham & Mears, our Oklahoma City product liability lawyers are here to help you if you have sustained an injury from a lithium-ion battery or other devices. We can pursue your rightful compensation if one of these devices has left you with burns and medical bills. To set up a free case evaluation, call us today at 405.212.9234 or fill out our contact form.