A St. Charles County jury awarded more than $2.35 million to a man who was severely injured when the battery in his vaping device exploded.
The award includes $2 million in punitive damages against Lightfire Holdings, which was alleged to have supplied lithium-ion batteries to a St. Louis-area store, where plaintiff Bryan Durham purchased one in 2017.
After a few months of use, the battery exploded in Durham’s face, causing multiple broken and missing teeth, a jaw fracture, numerous burns, and nerve damage in his mouth and left hand and arm.
Durham alleged that the battery was mislabeled as rated for 38 amps when its actual output was 10 amps, and that it lacked a device to prevent it from overheating. His lawyer, Rik Siro, said one expert said it was like a ladder that could hold only 200 pounds safely but was labeled as rated for 800 pounds.
“Eventually you’re going to weaken that thing, and one time you’re going to go up on the ladder with 300 pounds and it’s going to fail,” Siro said.
The suit alleged that Lightfire had placed the defective battery into the stream of commerce and failed to warn consumers of the defect. The jury rejected product defect claims but found for Durham on the failure to warn claim. It awarded punitive damages in a separate phase of the trial.
James Gottschalk, an attorney for Lightfire, didn’t return an email seeking comment. In a motion for directed verdict, he argued that the plaintiff had failed to prove the battery caused his injuries or that there was evidence of widespread battery explosions from vaping devices that would have put his client on notice of a problem.
$2.35 million verdict
Breakdown: $352,083 in compensatory damages, $2 million punitive damages
Venue: St. Charles County Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 1811-CC00938/Sept. 1, 2023
Judge: Rebeca Navarro-McKelvey
Plaintiff’s Experts: Rong Yuan, Berkeley Engineering and Research Inc., Berkeley, California (product defect and failure to warn); Lila Laux, Human Factors Consulting Services Inc., Chatsworth, California (failure to warn)
Defendant’s Expert: Jonathan Jordan, Esi, Dallas, Texas (product liability)
Caption: Bryan Durham v. Lightfire Holdings LLC, dba Kanger Wholesale USA
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Rik N. Siro, Siro Smith Dickson, Kansas City; Sara B. Craig, Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise, San Francisco, California
Defendant’s Attorney: James Gottschalk, Gausnell, O’Keefe & Thomas, St. Louis