Battery Problems Spread to Smartphones

by Cozen O'Connor
Contact

Cozen O'Connor

After more than a decade of laptop battery fires, coupled with the surge in new battery operated devices causing fires (including hoverboards and e-cigarettes), it seemed almost impossible that news of a new string of battery-powered product fires would feel surprising. But now the battery issue has spread to the smartphone. Last week Samsung announced a voluntary recall of 2.5 million phones worldwide because of a battery problem inducing fires in a small percentage of their Galaxy Note 7s. This version of the Galaxy Note was only released a few weeks before the recall. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Samsung are urging all owners of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphones to stop using these devices immediately. The company reported being informed about 35 incidents of the Note 7 catching fire while charging. It is noteworthy that other smartphone brands have received reports of a fire originating from their phones. In March of this year an IPhone 6 reportedly caught fire during an Alaska Airlines flight to Hawaii — flight attendants put out the fire quickly.

Currently there are more than 190 million smartphone users in the United States alone, representing approximately 60 percent of the entire U.S. population. Smartphones operate on small lithium-ion batteries. The continued surge in battery product fires make it timely to recap some of the reasons batteries are so prone to catastrophic failure. The liquid inside most lithium-ion batteries is highly flammable. If the battery short-circuits, either by puncturing the incredibly thin sheet of plastic separating the positive and negative sides of the battery or by contamination in the manufacturing process, the liquid electrolyte can heat up so quickly that the battery explodes. In fact, a study performed last year by chemical engineers at University College London found that a faulty battery can go from normal to explosive in milliseconds, providing no notice to the consumer of the impending failure. The specific defect with the battery can vary. Some include:

  • Lack of Proper Venting: Lithium-ion batteries are supposed to be properly vented to keep cool. If the battery at issue was not manufactured with any venting or it was not manufactured properly, then the battery can overheat and potentially cause a fire.
  • Contamination: One of the major causes of a battery failure is a contamination of some sort entering the battery during the manufacturing process. The contaminant(s) can damage the separator between the positive and negative sides of the battery, resulting in a fire.
  • Lack of Adequate Protection: Due to the sensitive and explosive nature of batteries discussed above, it is critical that products containing batteries are adequately protected from external damage. This can be challenging since most of the products operating on lithium-ion batteries, including smartphones, e-cigarettes, and hoverboards, are inherently exposed to dropping and related damage.
  • Lack of Proper TCO: Most products today contain or should contain some sort of thermal cutoff designed to cut power to the product when temperatures reach a dangerous level. Preventing excessive temperatures in lithium-ion battery devices is critical because once the overheating starts it can lead to thermal runaway in which temperatures continue escalating at dangerously high levels.

Due to the explosive nature of batteries, determining the specific defect in a battery fire case can be challenging. Eliminating alternative ignition sources, as always, is a critical first step. With regard to smartphone fires, investigators will also want to gather as much information on the use of the phone, including whether aftermarket chargers were being used, whether the phone was left in a car or otherwise exposed to extreme temperatures, and whether the phone experienced any external damage before the fire.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Cozen O'Connor | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Cozen O'Connor
Contact
more
less

Cozen O'Connor on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.