Defective e-cigarette battery caused fire, smoker claimed
Superior Court of Riverside County, Riverside
leg-scar and/or disfigurement; burns-second degree; other-buttocks; other-scar and/or disfigurement; hand/finger-hand; mental/psychological-post-traumatic stress disorder
Products Liability - Design Defect, Failure to Warn
Jennifer Ries, an individual; and Xavier Ries, an individual v. Benham Zolghadr, an individual, d/b/a VapCigs; The Tobacco Expo, a business entity, form unknown; and Does 1-100, inclusive, No. RIC1306769
Jennifer Ries (Female, 28 Years)
Gregory L. Bentley; Shernoff Bidart Echeverria Bentley LLP; Claremont, CA, for Jennifer Ries ■ Clare H. Lucich; Shernoff Bidart Echeverria Bentley LLP; Claremont, CA, for Jennifer Ries
La Verne Car Wash Inc.,
Mellow Dragon Corp. d/b/a The Tobacco Expo
Brad A. Mokri; Mokri & Associates; Santa Ana, CA, for Behnam Zolghadr ■ Michael A. Portigal; Law Offices of Vivian L. Schwartz; San Bernardino, CA, for La Verne Car Wash Inc., Mellow Dragon Corp. d/b/a The Tobacco Expo
Farmers Insurance Group of Cos. for The Tobacco Expo and Cartons 2 Go None reported for Behnam Zolghadr dba VapCigs
On March 21, 2013, plaintiff Jennifer Ries, 28, a nonprofit activist, purchased an electronic cigarette kit, the VapCigs E-Hookah E-Cigarette Starter Kit, from the Tobacco Expo store in Corona, CA. The kit contained an electronic cigarette, a lithium ion battery, and a charger with a USB connector. On March 25, Ries was a front-seat passenger in a vehicle driven by her husband, Xavier Ries, who was heading to the airport. Ries decided to charge the e-cigarette's battery and plugged the charger's USB connector into a universal car charger, which she then plugged into the car's USB power port. After doing so, liquid began dripping from the battery, and a chemical smell filled the car. Moments later, the battery exploded, spewing shards of metal throughout the car and setting Ries's dress and the passenger seat on fire. In a state of panic, she attempted to jump from the moving car, but her husband restrained her and doused the flames with an iced drink. Ries sustained burns to her legs, buttocks, and one of her hands. Ries and her husband sued the e-cigarette's distributor, Behnam Zolghadr, an individual doing business as VapCigs; the e-cigarette's wholesaler, La Verne Car Wash Inc. d/b/a Cartons 2 Go; and the retailer that sold her the device, Mellow Dragon Corp. d/b/a The Tobacco Expo. (La Verne Car Wash Inc. d/b/a Cartons 2 Go was not named in the original complaint caption but was on the verdict sheet.) The suit alleged claims under theories of defective design and failure to warn. The Reis' counsel asserted that the VapCigs battery was defective and did not perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected. She further contended that the defendants were strictly liable for failing to warn of the potential risks of the e-cigarette from reasonably foreseeable use, including charging the electronic cigarette in an automobile using the product's USB charger. The plaintiffs' counsel was prepared to show at trial that the e-cigarette's battery was designed to be charged at less than 4.2 volts, but the voltage supplied by a universal charger in a car power port is about 5 volts. The defense initially disputed the plaintiff's allegations that the e-cigarette's lithium-ion battery was defectively designed. However, before a jury was empaneled, all three defendants admitted liability, stipulating that the product was defective and failed to provide adequate warnings. The matter went to a trial on the issue of damages.
After the accident, Jennifer Ries was brought by her husband to the Willow Urgent Care Center in Fresno, where she was diagnosed with second-degree burns to her hands, buttocks, and left upper leg. She immediately underwent irrigation and debridement, by which dead and damaged skin was removed. The next day, Ries presented to the University of California Irvine Regional Burn Center, for additional treatments, which lasted throughout the next month. She also claimed to suffer severe emotional distress as a result of catching fire while trapped in a vehicle traveling 65 miles per hour, and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Prior to the incident, Ries was an avid philanthropist who enjoyed mission trips, charity work, and an active outdoor lifestyle. She contended that the second-degree burns left significant scarring on her body, and she was unable to enjoy the same level of outdoor activity. Ries claimed she will require additional treatments, such as laser and scar revision therapy, to resolve her injuries. She sought damages for past and future pain and suffering and for future medical costs.
Following a six-day trial, the jury awarded Jennifer Ries $1,885,000. The award included $30,000 for future economic damages, $1.64 million for past pain and suffering, and $215,000 for future pain and suffering.
Jennifer Ries: $30,000 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost; $1,640,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $215,000 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering
$299,000 (C.C.P. § 998)
$100,000 (C.C.P. § 998)
2 male/ 10 female
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs' counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.