June 7, 2008
By Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg
June 7 (Bloomberg) -- Taser International Inc., the largest stun-gun maker, lost a $6.2 million jury verdict over the death of a California man who died after police shot him multiple times with the weapon. The defeat is the first for Taser in a product- liability claim.
A San Jose, California, jury yesterday said Taser had failed to warn police in Salinas, California, that prolonged exposure to electric shock from the device could cause a risk of cardiac arrest. The jury awarded $1 million in compensatory damages and $5.2 million in punitive damages to the estate of Robert Heston, 40, and his parents. The jury cleared the police officers of any liability.
Taser previously won two trials, one over claims by a police officer injured in a training accident and the other involving a death in custody. Taser has settled at least 10 cases involving injuries to police officers during training, company lawyer Doug Klint told Bloomberg News last year. Taser said it will appeal the verdict.
``Certainly, this was a tragedy for the Heston family as well as for the officers involved,'' Klint said in a statement today. ``We, however, do not feel that the verdict is supported by the facts.''
Shot Multiple Times
The compensatory damage verdict will be reduced by the jury's finding that Heston was 85 percent responsible for his death, said family attorney John Burton. `That affects the compensatory damages, but not the punitives,'' he said in an interview.
``I think Taser's going to have to rethink its litigation strategy and its warning policies,'' Burton said. The jury awarded $5 million in punitive damages to Heston's parents and $200,000 in punitives to his estate.
Heston died on Feb. 20, 2005, after his father had called Salinas police because his son was ``acting strangely,'' and seemed to be on drugs, according to the lawsuit complaint. Salinas police shot Heston multiple times with the stun-gun, continuing to discharge their Tasers into him until he stopped moving, the lawsuit claims.
Heston went into cardiac arrest and died, his family said.
His parents sued Taser, alleging failure to warn of the dangers of the weapon, and Salinas police officers, claiming excessive force. The jury ``exonerated the police because they said the police didn't know repeated exposures could kill someone,'' Burton said.
Use of the Taser on Heston didn't cause his death, Klint said. Heston fit ``the well established symptom pattern for methamphetamine intoxication and associated excited delirium,'' a condition linked to sudden death in custody, Klint said.
The lawsuit is Heston v. City of Salinas, C 05-03658 JW, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).
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Saturday, June 07, 2008
June 7, 2008