Girardi | Keese

Judge Rules That Taser Caused Wrongful Death

A federal judge recently upheld a jury's finding that a taser caused a North Carolina teen's wrongful death. Tasers are a popular law enforcement tool because tasers are non-deadly weapons that can immediately immobilize a person without the use of violent force. Unfortunately, it appears that in certain instances that tasers can bring about a person's death.

"This is a dangerous device," said the attorney who pursued the wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased teen's family. "Tasers, when they're shot into the chest, can cause cardiac sudden death and Taser failed to warn its users about that."

The teen was tased after causing a scene at the grocery store which he worked at. The teen was accused of stealing food from the store and refused to leave after he was fired. An officer responded to the scene and observed the teen's tantrum. The officer ultimately shocked the teen for 37 seconds after the teen moved toward him in an aggressive manner.

The teen walked toward the officer for all of the 37 seconds that he was being tased until he fell and became non-responsive. The officer then shocked the teen for five more seconds after he did not move or respond to orders.

During the second shock the teen developed an irregular heartbeat and ultimately died. Paramedics could not revive him and he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The teen's family successfully demonstrated their failure to warn claim against the taser's manufacturer during the trial. There was evidence that Taser International, Inc. was aware that tasers could be lethal when aimed at a person's chest but continued to instruct taser users to aim for the "center of mass" with training manuals depicting chest shots.

The evidence was adequate to show that taser's warning was inadequate and that the company's failure to provide a reasonable warning to the police department was the actual and proximate cause of the teen's death. The teen's family was ultimately awarded $5,491,503.65.

Source: NBC Los Angeles, "Judge Upholds Verdict That Taser Killed Teen Suspect," Patrick Healy, March 29, 2012

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