JUUL lawsuits are being filed by vape users (or their parents) who claim that the e-cigarette devices and e-liquid “pods” can cause harm. While some people have praised e-cigarettes as a way to help some people quit smoking cigarettes, greater scrutiny from consumer watchdog groups, regulatory agencies, medical professionals and the media has given rise to claims that vaping devices have their own health risks.
Why Are People Filing E-Cigarette Lawsuits?
E-cigarette lawsuits tend to center around one of two claims:
- E-liquid flavor “pods” used with the vape devices contain highly dangerous or addictive chemicals, such as nicotine salts
- E-cigarettes themselves contain a manufacturing defect that causes injury to the user or others, such as a battery that overheats
Many lawsuits are being filed by parents or guardians on behalf of their minor children (mostly teenagers) who have used JUUL vape pens believing they were safer than traditional tobacco products.
E-Liquid Nicotine Addiction and Other Chemical Effects
Recent lawsuits have focused on the dangerous effects of vaping or “juuling,” as it has come to be known. Specifically, these lawsuits focus on the health consequences of the e-liquids used to create vapors, which contain a high amount of nicotine and other chemicals, the long-term effects of which are still largely unknown.
The addictive nature of nicotine is well-known. Some lawsuits allege that JUUL “pods” (e-liquid replacement cartridges) deliver higher nicotine levels than tobacco cigarettes. One lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California cited a study that found children who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to become cigarette smokers than those who do not use them. The greater addiction is explained by the use of nicotine salts, a concentrated form of nicotine that is more easily absorbed by the body.
In addition to providing highly addictive products, the company intentionally advertised their products to young people, many JUUL lawsuits claim. The company’s website likened JUUL devices to “the iPhone of E-cigs,” making them seem like “a cool, fashionable item to own and use,” as one lawsuit put it. Furthermore, JUUL gave its flavor pods names that some say are more enticing to children, such as “cool mint,” “fruit medley” and “crème brûlée.” Some people have even claimed that the look of JUUL vapes – which appear similar to USB drives – contributes to their attraction by young people. JUUL’s marketing techniques, coupled with higher concentrations of nicotine, make the product more dangerous according to the plaintiffs.
Vape Explosions (Defective Batteries)
Vaping devices are small electronic machines that heat and vaporize flavored liquids, which the user can then inhale. While vapes have different styles (generations) and shapes, they are all operated by small, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Because of their design, vaping devices can overheat and explode, causing severe damage to the user’s face, hands, or other parts of the body. In some cases, the injuries have led to death. Vape explosions can also start fires, endangering more than just the person using the device.
Some legal claims argue that vaping devices are even more dangerous than other products containing lithium batteries for two reasons:
- The combination of a battery plus a heating element
- The cylindrical design, which causes the battery to shoot out from the device like a rocket or bullet
The second claim is based on a report by the U.S. Fire Administration, which said that lithium-ion batteries in other devices, such as laptops or smartphones, are flat, rectangular and often sealed in plastic, making them less likely to build pressure when they overheat.
While there are no official statistics around vape explosion casualties, several deaths and many more injuries have been reported in the media over the last several years. An unwillingness on the part of manufacturers to test and update e-cigarette design is alleged in many vaping lawsuits.
FDA Actions Against E-Cigarettes
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authority to regulate tobacco products under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009. While electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) – also known as vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, and e-cigarettes – do not contain tobacco, they fall under the same class of products as regular cigarettes, cigars, pipes and related items.
Final Rules on E-Cigarettes: In August 2016, the FDA finalized its rules regarding nicotine products, which include regulations for e-cigarettes and vaping devices. These rules cover the manufacture, importation, packing, labeling, and other aspects of e-cigarettes, including advertising and promotion of the devices. It also covers device parts and accessories, such as e-liquids and their containers, batteries used in the devices, displays and even software used in the devices.
E-Cigarette Youth Campaign: In September 2018, the FDA announced plans for a new campaign that would warn children about the potential dangers of using e-cigarettes, given the rise in the use of e-cigarettes among young adults. According to the agency’s press release, the campaign will target approximately 10.7 million teens and pre-teens aged 12-17 who have used e-cigarettes or are open to trying them. The campaign will focus on warning children about the risks of addiction and other health concerns related to vaping.
Surprise Juul Inspection: Also in September 2018, the FDA sprung a surprise inspection on JUUL Labs, Inc., the largest manufacturer of e-cigarette devices, at its San Francisco headquarters. The agency left with hundreds of thousands of documents related to the company’s sales and marketing efforts.
Notable E-Cigarette Lawsuits
So far, there have been no large-scale class action lawsuits or multidistrict litigations, similar to the big tobacco lawsuits in years past. However, a number of individual lawsuits alleging injury or death due to vape use have been filed in various federal courts. Here are a few notable e-cigarette lawsuit examples.
Bradley Colgate and Kaytlin McKnight (California)
Two plaintiffs in Northern California filed a complaint against JUUL Labs and Pax Labs, claiming that the companies used false advertising and predatory marketing techniques to sell their products. As part of the claim, Colgate and McKnight allege that JUULpods (e-liquid packets) contained highly addictive concentrations of nicotine, which prevented them from being able to stop buying JUUL products. The lawsuit claims JUUL “built a commercial empire on fraud, misrepresentations and omissions,” focusing its efforts on attracting younger users through marketing efforts and by placing retail locations near middle schools, high schools and college campuses.
Using a number of studies, government reports and even JUUL’s own patent filings, the Colgate and McKnight lawsuit claims that JUUL vapes and JUULpods are not only addictive, but they are more addictive than other brands of e-cigarettes and e-liquids. By failing to note this research, plaintiffs argue, the vape maker misrepresented its products and prevented consumers from making an informed decision about whether to use their e-cigarettes.
In October 2018, many of the state law-based claims against JUUL in the Colgate and McKnight lawsuit were dismissed due to preemption by the Tobacco Control Act, a federal law that dictates what tobacco product manufacturers must put on warning labels. However, the judge presiding over the case declined to dismiss claims related to the company’s statements about levels of nicotine in JUULpods.
L.P. on Behalf of D.P. (New York)
Because the case involves a minor (D.P.), the names of the child and his mother (L.P.) are kept anonymous in the complaint, using only their initials. The lawsuit claims that after first trying JUUL e-cigarettes in September 2017, D.P. quickly became addicted to nicotine, and despite extreme attempts to get him to stop, he was unable to do so.
This individual lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that JUUL products do not contain any warnings about the inclusion of nicotine as an ingredient or the potentially addictive nature of the product. It also goes into some detail about JUUL’s advertising campaigns on social media and popular magazine websites like Vice, which bills itself as the “#1 youth media in the world.” Among the allegations are:
- The use of “JUUL bots” on Twitter that only posted JUUL-related content
- The marketing of “candy-like” flavors that entice younger users to try JUUL e-cigarettes
- The sale of “fun” accessories geared towards younger users, such as vinyl coverings (“skins”) and off-brand pods by third parties
Vape Battery Explosion Lawsuits
In November 2017, a woman named Treacy Gangi filed a lawsuit on behalf of her husband, 30-year-old Thomas Gangi, who was killed when an e-cigarette exploded, launching part of the device into his brain and skull. The explosion also caused a fire in his home, and Thomas died as a direct result of injuries sustained from the explosion and resulting fire. Treacy claims that the defendants – in this case Flawless Vape, Shenzhen Kangside Technology, Anker Technology Corp., Smoktek, among others – were responsible for wrongful death, along with breach of warranty and negligence, by failing to create a safe e-cigarette product.
While manufacturers continue to claim that vaping devices are safe, media reports indicate that the number of e-cigarette explosion lawsuits are increasing. According to one source, more than 120 vape battery explosion lawsuits were filed in 2017 alone. In several of the cases, the vaporizers exploded in the person’s mouth, knocking out teeth and causing burns. In February 2019, a man was killed in Fort Worth, TX, when his vaporizer exploded in his face.
E-Cigarette Settlements and Verdicts
Public records of e-cigarette compensation amounts are limited, in part because some vape lawsuits involve minors. However, there have been a few cases that resulted in settlements or favorable verdicts for the plaintiffs.
Jennifer Ries ($1.9 million): While charging her e-cigarette in the car on the way to the airport, the device suddenly started dripping liquid right before the battery suddenly exploded. The hot liquid gave Ries second-degree burns on her legs, hand, and buttocks, leaving behind scars. Ries sued the distributor, wholesaler, and tobacco shop where she bought the e-cigarette, and after a short trial, the jury awarded her $1.9 million.
J. Michael Hoce ($2 million): In the first e-cigarette lawsuit to go to trial in Florida, the Gainesville man sued R-L Sales, an online distributor, over a defective battery. In 2016, after using his vaping device for two months, the e-cigarette exploded while Hoce was visiting his parents. The blast blew out four of Hoce’s teeth and caused severe bleeding, requiring emergency treatment at a nearby hospital. In addition to the $2 million for pain and suffering, the jury awarded him $47,800 in medical expenses.
Frequently Asked Questions About E-Cigarette Lawsuits
Who Can File an E-Cigarette Lawsuit?
If you or a loved one has suffered from addiction, injury or death as a result of using a JUUL e-cigarette or a vape device from another manufacturer, you could be able to submit a legal claim. It is important to file as soon as possible, as filing deadlines in each state vary based on the statute of limitations.
Free case reviews from an experienced law firm are available for those who think they may be eligible.
What Compensation Is Available for E-Cigarette Lawsuits?
Some people have received millions of dollars in e-cigarette compensation. While not every person who submits a claim is guaranteed to receive that much, typically monetary damages can be awarded for any or all of the following reasons:
- Money spent on defective devices, including e-cigarettes, flavor pods and other supplies or accessories
- Costs of medical treatment related to the injuries caused by the device, including emergency care, surgery, prescriptions, follow-up appointments, physical or occupational therapy, addiction rehabilitation and mental therapy
- Loss of income, such as taking time off work or leaving a job to receive treatment or to take care of a family member who has been injured by an e-cigarette
- Pain and suffering on behalf of the injured person, including physical, mental and emotional anguish
- Funeral or other end-of-life expenses in the case of wrongful death lawsuits
- Punitive damages to punish the company for making and distributing a dangerous product
When considering whether to file a lawsuit, it is important to keep records of all your expenses, including receipts for the products themselves, bills from hospitals or doctor’s offices, statements of benefits from insurance providers, prescription records and anything else that could contribute to your case. If you have questions about what compensation is available, you should get a free consultation from a lawyer who has experience with these types of cases.
How Much Does Filing an E-Cigarette Lawsuit Cost?
E-cigarette lawsuits can be expensive, and in many cases families are already trying to pay off medical bills or other costs related to the victim’s injuries. The good news is that you will not need to spend any money up front to file a lawsuit. Reputable lawyers will take the case on contingency, meaning they will not get paid until they help you receive compensation through the legal system.
Make sure to ask about the potential costs of your case during your free case review, so you can understand what fees and other expenses are involved.