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Saturday, June 07, 2008


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).

1 comment:

Peter M. Williamson, Esq. said...

I, along with my co-counsel, John Burton, are thrilled to report that the facade of invincibility peddled for so long by TASER Intl., has finally begun to crumble. In the case of Heston v. TASER, Intel., et al., the first products liability jury verdict against TASER, we were able to convince a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose) that TASER knew about the potential risks of its M26 model due to prolonged discharges but failed to warn about such risks.
1. In order to do this, we took a slightly different approach which we hope will become more well known in the coming days and months. For over a year and a half, John and I reviewed all of the known research we could find on TASER’s physiological effects on the human body. Much of that research has to do with direct electrical stimulation of the heart - one theory that many people believe explains why people die suddenly while being subjected to TASER discharges. We rejected this theory because the state of the research, in our opinion, does not support it. However, we developed another theory which is not widely known but is supported by medical research - respiratory acidosis. Our position is quite simple. TASERs admittedly cause severe muscle contractions which cause the muscles to produce lactate or lactic acid. As the acidity of the blood continues to rise, pH drops. If a person’s blood pH drops to far too quickly, cardiac arrest can occur. We believe this is precisely what happened to Mr. Heston. It should also be noted that our jury rejected Excited Delirium as the cause of death (ED is nothing more than a way for police agencies to shift the blame for a person’s death away from their conduct and onto the victim)
Rick Smith, the CEO of TASER, has already issued a press release suggesting that the Heston jury reached its decision based on sympathy for the family. I know this is not true but simply more spin from TASER. I was the only attorney to speak with some of the jurors after the trial. Their decision was based on a very solid understanding of the facts of our case. They were convinced that TASER knew about the risks of prolonged applications (Mr. Heston received 25 total discharges from 3 different devices) but did nothing to warn its customers. As the Jury Foreperson put it, TASER could have easily sent warnings to its customers but choose not to do so. This explains the 5.2 million dollar punitive damage award.
As I told the Heston family after the verdict was announced, it is still possible for a David to beat a Goliath in a U.S. Court of Law.

Peter M. Williamson, Esq.