Designed to be Dangerous?

Lithium ion batteries have helped fuel the tech revolution. The first ones appeared commercially in 1991, released by the Sony Corporation. But lithium ion batteries have been problematical almost from the start. From the late 1990s, product safety warnings and recalls of lithium ion rechargeable batteries have occurred in almost every kind of tech device you can think of, including e-cigarettes, notebook computers, and smartphones.

How the Situation Came to Be

It’s no coincidence that the design of lithium ion batteries changed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Faster processors were introduced into computers that necessitated more battery power. The easiest and cheapest way for battery designers to cope with this problem was to make more room for the batteries’ reactive materials by thinning out the separators that keep the two oppositely-charged battery components apart. Doing this created problems with managing increased heat and slimmed margins of safety.

Another factor was that, simultaneously, the lithium ion rechargeable battery industry became highly competitive price-wise, with low profit margins. The Japanese companies that had been making the batteries began to move their operations to other countries, only to see increased problems with the batteries.

It all came to a head in 2006, with the recall of 4.1 million Dell notebook computers, the largest in consumer electronics to date at that time. About 9.6 million batteries from Sony were involved.

Other recent troublesome circumstances with lithium ion batteries to note:

  • In early 2016, laptop maker Toshiba recalled the Panasonic batteries it was using. About 100K computers were affected in North America.
  • In 2015, batteries in hoverboards caused explosions and fires. Amazon and Target quit selling them, and numerous airlines have banned them from cargo holds.
  • E-cigarette batteries have caused numerous explosions and fires that have maimed and burned In October, 2015, the Department of Transportation banned battery-powered e-cigs from checked bags and from charging them in the cabin.

And, of course, there are the numerous fires and injuries resulting from Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones.

A Galaxy of Problems

The Galaxy Note 7 was released in August, 2016. Almost immediately, reports of batteries causing fires started to appear. In mid-September, according to Samsung, the overheating reports numbered 92, including 26 burn reports and 55 incidents of property damage. One person is suing Samsung because his Galaxy S7 Edge, a Samsung phone similar to the Note 7, caused him second- and third-degree burns when it caught fire in his pocket.

Because of fire hazards, which could be deadly on board an airplane, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned people against using the Galaxy Note 7 on planes. The German airline Lufthansa, along with three Australian carriers, has banned their use. But the problems of lithium ion battery fires aboard aircraft are not limited to the Galaxy phones. Battery fires have been named as contributing factors in three cargo plane crashes, in 2006, 2010, and 2011. Because many kinds of devices use lithium ion batteries that have been subject to explosions and fires, some people are pressuring the FAA to ban all devices containing the batteries.

If you own a Galaxy Note 7, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled the device as of September 15, 2016.

Seeking truth. Securing justice.

If you or your loved one has suffered injuries because of a lithium ion battery, we want you to know that justice is possible. You may have legal recourse under defective product or personal injury laws. At the Louthian Law Firm we have more than 40 years of experience helping injured South Carolinians seek justice, and we’re committed to ensuring that you get the legal representation you need. To speak with an experienced attorney today, call us at 1-803-454-1200, or fill out our confidential online form for a free initial consultation.