Dangers of Defective E-Cigarettes: Why Do Vape Pens Explode?

Man holding his electronic cigarette.

Sui generis is a Latin phrase that legal types like to use. It means unique, or one of a kind. The term perfectly describes the injury risks that e-cigarettes, or “vape pens,” present to consumers in Colorado and across the country. Here’s why:

Vape pen fires and explosions are rare. Still, when they occur, consumers almost always suffer life-changing burns and other severe injuries. This is because people use and store vape pens near their bodies – near their mouths, for instance, or in their pockets. Lithium-ion battery failures typically fuel these fires and explosions.

The Sawaya Law Firm is now investigating vape pen fire and explosion cases on behalf of injured consumers in Denver and throughout Colorado. If you believe that you or a loved one suffered injuries due to a defective vape pen or other type of flawed e-cigarette, contact us today for a free case review.

Lithium-Ion Battery Failures Trigger Vape Pen Explosions

Every day, you probably use products with lithium-ion batteries – your laptop, for instance, or your cell phone. The batteries may be a safe power source for those types of devices. However, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), warns: They are “not as safe source of energy for” vape pens and other types of e-cigarettes.

Between 2009 and 2016, a reported 195 vape pen fires and explosions occurred in the United States. Six of those cases happened in Colorado, where vape pen use is especially high among young people. (In fact, a state health survey revealed that teens use e-cigarettes in our state at a rate that is twice the national average.) Recently, a Florida man died after using an e-cigarette that exploded.

You should know three things about vape pen fires and explosions:

  • How they occur: In lithium-ion batteries, you have two electrodes – a cathode and an anode. A film separates the two electrodes. This film contains a combustible liquid electrolyte. If a battery overheats, it can ignite the electrolyte, and the battery may rupture. This is how vape pen fires and explosions most often occur.
  • How the vape pen shape contributes to injuries: Most vape pens are cylinders. The battery is located opposite from the mouthpiece. If a fire or explosion occurs at the battery end, it can act like a “flaming rocket,” as the USFA describes. Many people suffer burns as well as mouth, eye and neck injuries from flying debris.
  • Where they happen: Many vape pens have burst into flames or exploded while consumers were using the devices in their mouths or while holding them. However, the USFA reports, the majority of incidents occur when the vape pen is being kept in a pocket, being charged or otherwise stored.

Good Question: ‘Will My Vape Pen Explode on a Plane?’

A vape pen could explode anywhere – in your mouth, in your pocket or in a bag or suitcase. So, a vape pen could certainly explode on a plane. In fact, the USFA reports that at least one e-cigarette fire or explosion between 2009 and 2016 occurred when the device was being transported on a cargo aircraft.

A key factor is whether the lithium-ion battery overheats. For instance, a person could leave the vape pen in the sun or near a heat source, or the battery could short-circuit while it was being charged. If the battery overheats – no matter where the pen is located – it can ignite the electrolyte and trigger an explosion.

Another Good Question: ‘Can Disposable Vape Pens Explode?’

Both disposable and non-disposable vape pens use the same energy source: Lithium-ion batteries. A battery activates the heating coil that converts the liquid in a vape pen into a vapor. If a vape pen battery overheats, it can cause severe injuries. They “are not a safe source of energy for these devices,” according to the USFA.

Nobody regulates the safety of the batteries and other electronic features of vape pens. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) did come out with testing standards for e-cigarette devices in 2017. However, even if a vape pen has a UL sticker, it could still fail and explode due to a design or manufacturing defect.

The bottom line is that both disposable and non-disposable vape pens can be dangerous to consumers – as long as they contain lithium-ion batteries. If you suffer injuries due to a vape pen fire or explosion, you should seek help from an experienced product liability attorney as soon as possible.

Can a Vape Pen Explosion Kill You?

In May 2018, CNN reported that a Florida man suffered fatal injuries while using an e-cigarette. According to the news outlet, the man died from a projectile wound to the head. The projectile came from the “mod” type e-cigarette device that the man was using. He also suffered lip wounds and burns.

The USFA reported no deaths among the 195 e-cigarette incidents that occurred in the U.S. between 2009 and 2016. According to the USFA, most victims (41 percent) suffered what could be described as “moderate” injuries, or injuries that required emergency room treatment and/or involved:

  • Smoke inhalation
  • Second-degree burns
  • Lacerations requiring stitches
  • Typically, no hospitalization.

However, in 19.5 percent of the fires and explosions, the victims suffered “severe” injuries, or injuries that required hospitalization and/or involved:

  • Possible loss of a body part
  • Third-degree burns
  • Facial injuries.

Again, the unique shape of vape pens contributes to these injuries. Also, the fire or explosion may occur while a person has the vape pen in his or her mouth, or while the person is carrying the device in his or her pocket.

What Should You Do If a Vape Pen Explodes?

If you have suffered injuries because a vape pen exploded while you were using, holding or storing it, you may be entitled to compensation for the physical, emotional and financial harm you have suffered. As you move forward, make sure to take these four steps:

  1. Get medical attention. You should be checked for eye, mouth, throat or other injuries. Follow your doctor’s treatment plan.
  2. Save the device. Keep the vape pen and any parts that broke loose in the explosion. If you still have it, keep the packaging and instructions, too.
  3. Report to the FDA. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates e-cigarettes. If you file a report, you can help the FDA to assess and address the problem of e-cigarette fires and explosions.
  4. Get help from a lawyer. Your lawyer can investigate your case, calculate your losses and help you to pursue all of your legal options.

Contact Our Denver Vape Pen Explosion Lawyers Today

The Sawaya Law Firm has a record of protecting the rights of consumers in Denver and throughout Colorado which goes back to 1977. If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a vape pen fire or explosion, we can put our experience and resources to work for you right away. Contact us today to get started with a free review of your case.


Michael established The Sawaya Law Firm in 1977 and built it into one of the largest personal injury law firms in Colorado, with more than 20 lawyers and 80 staff members serving clients from five offices located in Denver, Greeley and Colorado Springs. Throughout its history, the firm has stayed true to its 12 Core Values, which emphasize excellence in advocacy and a commitment to providing outstanding client service. Michael studied sociology and economics as an undergraduate student at The Colorado College, and he earned his law degree from the Texas Tech University School of Law. In addition to being involved in several legal and community organizations, Michael enjoys playing music and cooking, and he has written a book on spiritual matters.