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What Is “Thermal Runaway?”

Posted on May 21, 2018

The plethora of electronic devices available today include smartphones, portable video game consoles, electronic cigarettes, laptop computers, and countless other gadgets built with lithium ion batteries. These batteries last much longer than standard batteries and are small enough to fit in many portable devices. Despite their convenience, lithium ion-powered devices pose unique risks to users.

How Does a Lithium Ion Battery Work?

Each lithium ion battery cell includes a metal oxide cathode at the negative end and a carbon anode at the positive end. Lithium molecules in the battery travel from the carbon anode to the negative anode, leaving a lithium ion behind. These ions flow through a solvent made of organic materials between the anode and cathode, producing electricity. Although this method of creating battery power is relatively inexpensive, scalable, and produces longer run time than other battery sources, several risks exist to the lithium ion battery system.

If a lithium ion battery gathers too much charge, overheats, or produces too much current, the cell can short circuit. Poorly made batteries also pose this risk. When a lithium ion battery short circuits it can cause “thermal runaway,” an intense rise in pressure and heat that you cannot stop. Eventually, the thermal runaway can cause a fire or explosion and reach temperatures exceeding one thousand degrees Fahrenheit.

Dangers of Thermal Runaway

Several manufacturers have recalled products made with lithium-ion batteries in recent years. Most recently, Samsung issued a recall for their Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after many consumers reported their phones exploding or catching fire. Several companies that manufactured hover boards (two-wheeled electronic boards that allow a rider to coast while standing, using his or her body weight to steer) had to recall their products after their internal batteries experienced thermal runaway.

While most manufacturers take the time and effort to design safe and effective products, others decide to cut corners to reach market faster and get their products into the hands of as many customers as possible as quickly as possible. When they take shortcuts in the development phase for products with lithium ion batteries, consumers stand to suffer the worst of the consequences.

Legal Action for Thermal Runaway Incidents

If you or a loved one recently suffered injuries due to a thermal runaway event with a lithium ion battery, you may have grounds for a product liability claim. Product manufacturers must ensure their products meet all applicable standards and regulations and function as intended and advertised. If a company released a dangerous or defective product that injures a consumer, the injured victim can file a product liability claim against the manufacturer to secure compensation for his or her damages.

A lithium ion battery that experiences thermal runaway in a cell phone, electronic cigarette, or other handheld device can cause severe burns and explosive injuries. The resulting explosion or fire may also damage property and cause permanent disabilities such as blindness or hearing loss. In these situations, an attorney can help you determine whether or not you have grounds to file a lawsuit for your damages.

Product Liability Claims

In a product liability claim, the plaintiff must prove that the product in question is defective and the defect caused the plaintiff’s damages. A product can be defective by design, with an inherent flaw in the design of the product that affects every unit, or defective by production in which only a few units may feature defects. If a company falsely advertises a product or fails to include necessary safety warnings or instructions for use, this would constitute defective marketing.

Talk to a Birmingham personal injury attorney if you or a loved one has recently experienced thermal runaway with a lithium ion battery. You may have grounds to file a lawsuit and collect compensation for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, property damages, and lost income if your injuries forced you to miss work.