Man who says e-cigarette exploded in his face sues Grover Beach smoke shop


An Arroyo Grande man is seeking unspecified damages from a Grover Beach smoke shop and a Chinese battery manufacturer over an alleged incident in which an e-cigarette blew up in his face.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, attorneys for Robert Whittier and his wife, Lela, accuse Express Smoke Shop, its owner, Samal Yousef, and the China-based battery company Shenzhen MXJO Technology Co. of gross negligence and product liability for the incident that, according to Whittier, caused third-degree burns to his face.

Whittier purchased a flat rechargeable battery for his e-cigarette device at Express Smoke Shop in February, according to the lawsuit. On March 4, Whittier was using the device when it suddenly exploded, causing deep third-degree burns that required extensive hospitalization and surgery.

Whittier is seeking damages for past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering. Lela Whittier, who allegedly witnessed the explosion, is seeking damages for “severe emotional distress” and the “loss of her husband’s love … loss of enjoyment of sexual relations and loss of her husband’s physical assistance in the operation and maintenance of their home,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $25,000 from the Chinese battery manufacturer as well, accusing the company of selling a defective product.

Los Angeles-based attorney Steven Angarella, who is representing the Whittiers, did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

Lawsuits only represent one side of the story, and the defendants have not yet filed responses in court. Yousef, through an employee at Express Smoke Shop, declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.

E-cigarettes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A 2014 U.S. Fire Administration study found media reports of 25 incidents of explosion and fire involving the devices between 2009 and August 2014.

Whittier’s lawsuit does not describe the battery he purchased, but lithium-ion batteries are normally used to power e-cigarettes and can sometimes overheat, causing devices to explode, according to the study.

Three other cases of injuries involving exploding e-cigarette devices have been reported in San Luis Obispo County in the past year.

In April, a Paso Robles teen was smoking an e-cigarette when the device blew up and caught fire, according to a family GoFundMe page. Daniel McClelland suffered dental injuries and severe burns to his mouth and trachea, according to family Facebook and GoFundMe pages.

In December, a Pismo Beach man filed a lawsuit against VIP Vapor Shop and Lounge after he said his e-cigarette exploded and caused severe burns to his hands and face, according to court records.

In November, a 29-year-old Paso Robles man suffered upper thigh burns when an e-cigarette he was carrying in his pocket blew up as he bent over, according to the Atascadero Fire Department.

A case management conference in Whittier’s case is scheduled for Oct. 31 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.