Why Do Lithium-Ion Batteries Explode? And What to Do If It Happens to You

June 2023 Update: Recently, Abbott Laboratories issued a Class I recall for three models of its Flash Glucose Monitoring Systems, all of which use lithium-ion batteries. This type of recall is used when there is a risk of serious injury or death. Learn more about the recall on the FDA website.

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are used in much of the technology we use today, including smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles and bicycles, drones, medical devices, vapes, and more. However, when Li-ion batteries are manufactured improperly, are overcharged, or overheat, they can explode and catch fire, putting consumers in serious danger.

In recent years, there have been several high-profile incidents involving lithium-ion battery fires. In 2016, Samsung recalled millions of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones due to reports of battery fires. In 2018, a Tesla Model S caught fire in California after a crash, and a year later, a Tesla Model 3 caught fire in a parking lot in Shanghai.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the potential dangers of Li-ion batteries, what causes them to explode, and what to do in the case of a battery explosion. Additionally, if you have been injured by a Lithium-ion battery, you may have a right to compensation. Schedule a free consultation with our attorneys to discuss your potential case.

How do lithium-ion batteries work?

Lithium-ion batteries create energy through the movement of lithium ions between the battery’s electrodes. The lithium ions are transported through a liquid or gel-like substance called an electrolyte (this will be important later), which allows for the continuous flow of lithium ions, allowing these batteries to be rechargeable and providing a reliable and long-lasting source of energy.

Li-ion batteries typically have a higher voltage and capacity than other batteries, permitting them to deliver more power over a longer period. They also have a lower self-discharge, meaning they can retain their charge for longer periods when not in use, making them more convenient for devices that require intermittent or occasional use. For these and other reasons, Li-ion batteries have become a popular option for a variety of electronic devices. Unfortunately, these devices are not without their dangers.

Why do lithium-ion batteries explode?

Lithium-ion batteries can explode or catch fire due to a phenomenon called thermal runaway. Thermal runaway is a chain reaction that occurs when the battery experiences a rapid increase in temperature, leading to the release of energy and potentially causing a catastrophic failure. Li-ion batteries can overheat from being damaged or punctured, being overcharged, or being exposed to high temperatures or direct sunlight.

Additionally, the electrolyte liquid inside the battery is flammable. If the battery is damaged, the liquid can leak out and come into contact with oxygen in the air, potentially igniting and causing a fire or explosion.

However, the most egregious cause of the Li-ion battery explosions is manufacturer defects. Cheap materials and poor quality assurance can introduce impurities or foreign particles inside the battery, which can create short circuits and increase the likelihood of thermal runaway.

How can I tell if a lithium-ion battery is failing?

Unfortunately, there are not always visible warning signs before a lithium-ion battery fails.  However, some tell-tale signs that the battery may be failing include:

  • Overheating: if the device containing the Li-ion battery becomes unusually hot to the touch, especially near the battery area, it could be a sign of a problem and you should not continue to charge or power the device/battery.
  • Swelling or bulging: a failing Li-ion battery will often expand, causing the battery to swell or bulge. If you notice visible deformities to the shape of the device and/or battery, stop using the device immediately.
  • Reduced battery life/inconsistent charging: if you notice that the battery life of your device has significantly decreased, or the charging process becomes erratic or unreliable, these can be signs of a failing battery.

What should I do in the case of a Lithium-ion battery explosion?

If a Li-ion battery explodes, there are a few immediate steps you should take to ensure your safety:

  1. Evacuate the area: Move away from the battery as quickly as possible to avoid exposure to any harmful fumes or flames.
  2. Alert others: If you are in a public place, notify those around you of the explosion and instruct them to leave the area.
  3. Call emergency services: Contact your local emergency services immediately and inform them of the explosion.
  4. Handle the battery with caution: If you need to move the battery, use appropriate protective gear such as gloves and safety glasses. Do not touch the battery with your bare hands.
  5. Ventilate the area: Open windows and doors to allow fresh air to circulate and clear any fumes that may have accumulated. Ruptured Li-ion batteries can release toxic gases that are harmful to human health.
  6. Do not attempt to extinguish the fire: Lithium-ion batteries can be difficult to extinguish, and attempting to do so could put you at risk. Leave this to the professionals.
  7. Dispose of the battery properly: Lithium-ion batteries should be disposed of at designated recycling centers to avoid environmental damage.

From Our Attorneys

“A lot of people don’t realize just how common lithium-ion batteries are. They’re in your smartphones, laptops, power tools, handheld gaming devices, smartwatches, medical devices, kids’ toys; they’re everywhere. Lithium-ion batteries have been known to explode or catch fire in any of these types of devices, so it’s really important that you take proper care when charging, using, and storing these items, but also that you know what to do if a lithium-ion battery is overheating/failing.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen that these batteries can cause serious burn injuries and even death, and our focus is on holding the manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries and the devices that use them responsible for that harm.” – Caroline McGlamry, Attorney & Shareholder at Pope McGlamry

Caroline McGlamry is actively accepting Li-ion battery explosion cases.


Have You Been Injured by a Lithium-ion Battery Explosion? We Want to Hear From You.

Even when consumers take safety precautions when using Li-ion batteries, disaster can strike. If you or a loved one has been injured from a Li-ion battery explosion, Pope McGlamry can help. Our attorneys are reviewing cases against Li-ion battery manufacturers, manufacturers whose actions—or lack thereof—have led to injury or even death of their consumers.

Pope McGlamry is a nationally recognized class action and personal injury litigation firm based in Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia. We’re known for effective, aggressive counsel in complex litigation and have the resources to take on large corporations. All Pope McGlamry cases are accepted on a contingency basis, meaning clients gain immediate access to legal protection but don’t pay anything upfront to participate in litigation.

Think you might have a case? Fill out the form below for a free consultation.