The e-cigarette battery exploded in her pocket while she was driving with her toddler, lawsuit says

A Pierce County woman’s e-cigarette battery exploded in her pocket while she was driving in the South Hill area with her toddler, according to a lawsuit she’s filed.

The fire happened April 10, 2017 after Stephanie Galdarisi, her 3-year-old daughter and a friend had stopped for ice cream.

Galdarisi’s lawsuit names various companies she alleges were part of the manufacture, distribution, design and sale of the e-cigarette and battery, which she argues didn’t have adequate safety warnings.

Among the companies are: Admiral Trading doing business as VaporSt8; Vapor Flavors; Shenzen IVPS Technology doing business as SMOK; Shenzen Smok Technology; and Samsung.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, says that a friend gave Galdarisi a SMOK e-cigarette bought from Admiral Trading — a Bonney Lake company.

Later, the lawsuit says, Galdarisi bought a Samsung INR 18650 2500Ah 3.6 unprotected high-drian20A lithium-ion flat top battery for the device from VaporFlavors, a Parkland company.

Mark Kimball, an attorney for VaporFlavors, told The News Tribune: “My clients have checked their records, and we have no indication whatsoever that they even carried that battery during the period of time in question.”

The other companies did not comment on the lawsuit by press time.

The complaint Galdarisi filed June 13 in Pierce County Superior Court gives this account of the fire:

She got ice cream at South Hill’s Sunset Village shopping center with her 3-year-old daughter and a friend.

Before she got in the car to leave, Galdarisi locked the e-cigarette and battery and put it in the pocket of her pants. The pocket didn’t have anything else inside.

There was a “whirring sound” and a “pop” as she started to drive out of the parking lot.

“... the e-cigarette exploded and caught fire, engulfing Plaintiff Galdarisi in flames,” the lawsuit says. “Panicked and confused, Plaintiff lifted herself from the seat and tried to slap the burning e-cigarette and battery away. The device fell under her lap and flames continued to shoot out, burning the underside of her thighs.”

Her friend managed to put the car in park and unbuckle Galdarisi’s seatbelt, so that Galdarisi could get out of the car.

Galdarisi was taken to the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center, where she stayed for 16 days.

She required follow-up treatment and will need surgery in the future for her scars.

Her injuries are painful, disfiguring and disabling, the lawsuit says.

Jerry Baker, one of her attorneys, said the friend and the toddler were not injured.

Baker said he’s worked on several e-cigarette cases.

“I have grown really suspicious of these devices,” he said. “I have friends who use e-cigarettes. I no longer allow them to come into my house or my car with the devices. If they come over I ask them to leave them outside. There just doesn’t seem to be any way to predict when they are going to explode, and when they do explode, the consequences can be horrific.”

A Pierce County man filed a similar lawsuit to Galdarisi’s in 2017, against different companies, after he said his e-cigarette battery caught fire in his pocket.

Court records show that case is pending.

According to the Centers for Disease Control website on e-cigarettes: “e-cigarettes may help non-pregnant adult smokers if used as a complete substitute for all cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products,” but they are not approved as an aid to quit smoking by the Food and Drug Administration.

The CDC also noted that: “Defective e-cigarette batteries have caused fires and explosions, some of which have resulted in serious injuries,” and that most explosions happened while the batteries were charging.

The FDA collects reports of vape explosions, and has tips online about how to avoid them.

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.