Shown above are Samsung SDI’s lithium-ion batteries. Samsung’s 18650 batteries used for e-cigarettes caused controversies due to an explosion accident. Photo courtesy of Samsung SDI

Korean battery manufacturers warned of punitive damage suits

South Korean battery maker Samsung SDI will be subject to a punitive damage suit in the United States this year, and its local rival LG Energy Solutions is also feared to face a similar lawsuit.

Bentley & More LLP said in a recent email interview that Samsung SDI’s lithium-ion battery in an electronic-cigarette exploded in 2018 to case serious burns to its client.

Claiming that its 18650 batteries are not designed to be used for e-cigarettes, Samsung SDI tried to dismiss the case by filing a motion for summary judgment.

But the U.S. court ruled in favor of the plaintiff late last year. As a result, a jury trial will start this September to examine Samsung’s liability for the incident and its culpability for punitive damages.

Samsung was aware that its batteries were being used in e-cigarette devices before the 2018 e-cigarette explosion, according to Bentley & More LLP.

“(A Samsung official) stated under oath in his declaration filed in support of Samsung motion that ‘In June 2017, Samsung SDI confirmed that a 18650 RLIB was used in an 3-cigarette device that allegedly caused injuries to a plaintiff,’” the law firm’s senior attorney Greg Bentley said.

“In his deposition, also under penalty of perjury, he admitted that Samsung first became aware of allegations in January 2016.”

Bentley criticized that the Samsung SDI batteries in question are still widely available in the U.S. for online and brick-and-mortar retail purchases.

The Riverside Superior Court in California sided with the plaintiff advised by the law firm.

“Samsung contends that the motion for summary judgment should be granted because plaintiff’s misuse of the product is a complete defense to both causes of action. However, misuse is not a defense if the misuse is actually a foreseeable danger in how the produced document could be used,” the court ruled.

“Based on the evidence provided by plaintiff, it appears that Samsung failed to take any direct actions regarding the use of their batteries in e-cigarette devices before plaintiff’s accident, even though they were aware of the risk for several years. For purpose of this motion, this is sufficient to create a triable issue of material fact.”

But Bentley said that out-of-court settlements are possible before the trial starts this September.

“As with all cases, there is a chance the matter may settle before trial,” he said.

LG Energy Solutions may face a similar punitive lawsuit with regards to 18650 batteries because the company is also a major manufacturer of the products. It spun off from LG Chem late last year.

“LG Chem has had a number of cases brought against it regarding exploding 18650 batteries. Although my firm previously litigated against LG regarding those battery explosions, we are not currently litigating against LG Chem,” he said.

“Should additional LG battery explosion matters be brought before my firm, we will evaluate and consider future proceedings against LG Chem, including the possibility of punitive damages.”