Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Jury Verdict Against TASER International, Inc., in Wrongful Death Suit
May 11, 2011
First-Ever Products Liability Verdict Upheld
San Francisco, CA (PRWEB)
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the first-ever plaintiff’s products liability verdict against Scottsdale based TASER International, Inc., the leading manufacturer of Electronic Control Devices (“ECDs”). TASER had sought to overturn the jury’s wrongful-death verdict claiming various errors during the trial (see the attached Memorandum Decision). However, a unanimous three-judge panel substantially rejected TASER’s appeal and affirmed the verdict. The plaintiffs are extremely gratified by the court's ruling which holds TASER responsible for the death of their son and brother, respectively, according to their attorneys, John Burton of Pasadena, California and Peter M. Williamson of Woodland Hills, California.
According to the plaintiffs' complaint, on February 19, 2005, Robert C. Heston began acting erratically inside his family's Salinas, California home. Suspecting a drug relapse, Heston's father called the police reporting his son's bizarre behavior and asked for help. Officers from the Salinas Police Department used their TASER ECDs repeatedly, ultimately subjecting Heston to 75 seconds of electrical discharges. As a result, Heston suffered a cardiac arrest. He was removed from life support and died the following day.
In their lawsuit, Heston v. City of Salinas, et al., N.D. Cal. Case No. C 05-03658 JW (United States District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose)), Heston's parents alleged that TASER ECDs are unreasonably dangerous and defective for use on human beings because they were sold without adequate testing and without sufficient warning that multiple shocks on people under the influence of drugs can cause cardiac arrest and death.
On June 7, 2008, the Heston jury found that TASER knew or should have known that its M26 model ECD was dangerous because prolonged exposures to the device pose a substantial risk of cardiac arrest to persons against whom the device is deployed. The jury also found that TASER International failed to adequately warn purchasers of its device of the risks associated with its use. It awarded the parents of Robert Heston $1,000,000 in compensatory damages and $5,000,000.00 in punitive damages. The jury also awarded Heston's estate $21,000.00 in compensatory damages and another $200,000.00 in punitive damages. However, it also found Robert Heston 85% comparatively negligent for the incident which ultimately resulted in his death. After post-trial motions, the trial court vacated the punitive damage awards leaving a net verdict of $150,000 to the parents of Robert Heston and $3,150 to his estate. TASER was also ordered to pay $1,423,000.00 in attorneys’ fees under the California Private Attorney’s General statute to attorneys John Burton of Pasadena, California and Peter M. Williamson of Williamson & Krauss of Woodland Hills, California who successfully represented the Heston family.
In upholding the verdict, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did not disturb the jury’s findings that substantial evidence existed to prove that TASER knew or should have known that its M26 model ECD was dangerous because prolonged exposures to the device pose a substantial risk of cardiac arrest to persons against whom the device is deployed. The Court, however, did vacate the jury’s award of $3,150 to the Heston estate concluding that insufficient evidence was presented at the trial to support this award. The Court also vacated the award of attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs’ counsel agreeing with TASER that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding such fees under the California Private Attorney’s General statute.