A plaintiffs firm suing over injuries caused by exploding e-cigarettes has asked a California judge to coordinate the cases in order to decide a jurisdictional challenge raised by LG, the alleged manufacturer of the lithium ion batteries at issue.
Meanwhile, LG Chem Ltd., the chemical unit of South Korea’s LG Corp., has insisted it doesn’t even make batteries for e-cigarettes. It has filed motions to quash service of summons and the complaints in at least seven cases, all filed by Bentley & More in Newport Beach, California.
In court documents, LG’s attorney, Trevor Ingold, a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in Los Angeles, argued for dismissal on the ground that the cases do not allege his client has general or personal jurisdiction in California.
A judge in Orange County Superior Court is set to hear arguments on the coordination matter, and possibly rule, on Monday.
“We’ve asked the court to coordinate them with respect to whether there’s jurisdiction over LG Chem, and whether there should be jurisdictional discovery to show sufficient minimum contacts to establish jurisdiction,” said Matthew Clark, a partner at Bentley & More.
Ingold did not respond to a request for comment.
Across the country, numerous people injured by exploding e-cigarettes have filed lawsuits, primarily against small retail shops. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received complaints about exploding e-cigarettes, which are not regulated like nicotine cigarettes.
Clark said his firm, which got a $1.9 million verdict in 2015 on behalf of a woman whose e-cigarette exploded in her car, has 14 lawsuits pending in various courts in California. LG has filed motions to quash in seven cases and “we expect they’ll file identical motions” in six more, Clark said. Another case, removed last month to federal court, seeks $19 million against LG on behalf of a woman who suffered severe burns to her face, neck and thighs, when her e-cigarette exploded. LG has sought to dismiss the case on the same jurisdictional ground.
Most plaintiffs sued small retailers, with LG assumed as a “Doe” defendant. The cases revolve around two types of lithium ion batteries, one of which has another brand name but is “indistinguishable from LG branded batteries,” according to plaintiffs’ coordination motion.
In court papers, LG insisted that it has no office or facility in California and called the coordination request a delay tactic and move for “overbroad discovery.” LG does not make batteries for e-cigarettes, the company wrote, and claims that other companies, such as Shenzhen MXJO Technology Ltd. in China, rewrapped its batteries without its authorization.
Not so, Clark said.
“It’s our understanding LG has a long distribution agreement with a lot of these companies, selling batteries that don’t make the grade for commercial applications, with defects or that don’t stand up to their grading, to lower-tier manufacturers, like folks in China, knowing they’ll change the wrapper,” he said.
He said his firm previously settled about half a dozen e-cigarette cases with LG but declined to discuss dollar amounts, saying only they were “fair and reasonable compensation for the injuries suffered.” At that time, LG had been accepting service of his complaints but, as more cases piled up across the country, that changed. LG has forced plaintiffs to go through the Hague Convention, which took several months, and has brought in Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough partner Marc Williams of Huntington, West Virginia, and Rachel Hedley, of counsel in Columbia, South Carolina, as additional counsel, he said.
Clark said, “It’s been [like] pulling teeth since they changed their tune about how they want to litigate these cases.”