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Judy Greenwald

Taser lawsuit in traffic stop death dismissed on appeal

April 3, 2014 - 2:18pm

Taser Lawsuit


Taser International Inc. cannot be held liable for failing to issue an additional warning about the dangers of its Taser weapon in the death of a man killed with the device by police during a traffic stop, because the police officer involved had not even read already existing warnings, said an appellate court in dismissing the case.

Officer Jeremy Baird of the Moberly, Mo., Police Department shot Stanley Harlan in the chest with a Taser electronic control device after a traffic stop on Aug. 28, 2008, according to Thursday's ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis in Athena Bachtel v. Taser International Inc.

Mr. Harlan fell to the ground and appeared to lose consciousness. He was pronounced dead about two hours later, and a medical examiner determined the cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest that occurred shortly after the Taser's use.

Ms. Bachtel, Mr. Harlan's mother, originally sued the city of Moberly and several police officers for excessive force and deliberate indifference, and that case was settled for $2.4 million in June 2009, according to the ruling.

Ms. Bachtel then sued Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser in August 2011, charging the company was liable for not having provided adequate warnings that direct deployments of the device into the chest could lead to cardiac arrest, as well as for placing a defectively designed product on the market.

To prevail on her strict liability claim for failure to warn, Ms. Bachtel needed to demonstrate both that the product caused Mr. Harlan's death and that a warning “would have altered the behavior of the officers involved in the incident,” said the appellate ruling.

However, “We conclude that there is no genuine dispute on this record that Officer Baird would not have read any additional warning Taser may have added about the cardiac danger” of its device, said the ruling, observing that the officer had not read warnings the company had already issued.

Turning to the design defect claim, the appellate court said, “Missouri courts have explained that under strict liability, a manufacturer is not intended to be an insurer of any and all injuries caused by its products.”

“We conclude that Bachtel has failed to present evidence that the (Taser) used by Officer Baird was unreasonably dangerous as designed,” said the ruling. “The evidence Bachtel points to in her brief on appeal establishes only a link between the device and the injury,” it said.

“Since Bachtel has failed to demonstrate any 'specific design choices' that rendered the (Taser model) unreasonably dangerous, her claim fails as a matter of law,” said a unanimous three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit in affirming a ruling dismissing the case by the U.S. District Court in Hannibal, Mo.

Appellate courts have issued different rulings on the issue of Taser's liability. For instance, in November 2013 a federal appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling on Taser's liability in the death of a teenager but remanded the case for a new trial on the $5.5 million in damages awarded in the case.

 



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