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Wrongful death suit against Taser dismissed

Posted On: Jul. 12, 2012 12:00 AM CST

SAN FRANCISCO—Taser International Inc. cannot be held liable, based on the information available at the time, for not issuing warnings that repeated exposure to its product could lead to death, said an appellate court, in upholding dismissal of a 2004 wrongful death lawsuit.

According to Tuesday's decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Evelyn Rosa and Robert Rosa et al. vs. Taser International Inc., in August 2004 police responding to a call found Michael Rosa acting “either really high or crazy.” This led to Mr. Rosa being shot multiple times with a Taser, an electronic stun gun manufactured by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International.

Mr. Rosa went into cardiac arrest and died. His death was subsequently linked to metabolic acidosis from the Taser shots. This is when the body accumulates lactic acid more quickly than it can dispose of it, making sudden cardiac arrest more likely, according to the ruling.

Mr. Rosa's parents and sister filed suit against Taser, asserting he died because the company inadequately warned of the dangers of the Taser to the officers who used it. A lower court awarded Taser summary judgment dismissing the case.

Risk may have been known

The appellate court upheld the ruling. The Rosas depended on four peer-reviewed articles to establish that the risk that Taser's product may cause fatal levels of metabolic acidosis could have been known by December 2003, when the Taser in question had been distributed, said the ruling.

“We conclude that these articles do not present a triable issue of fact that the risk was more than purely speculative,” said the decision by a three-judge panel, after analyzing each of the articles.


One article, for instance, on the impact of acidosis on the risk of ventricular fibrillation, a form of cardiac arrhythmia, “makes no attempt to link either its findings or acidosis to the use of electronic control devices,” said the ruling.

State-of-the-art defense

James M. Beck, counsel at law firm Reed Smith L.L.P. in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the case, said “It is significant as a decision based upon an analysis of preliminary medical articles, as to how a defense can establish as a matter of law a ‘state-of-the-art’ defense, and that’s significant in many areas of litigation, including drugs and medical devices.”

A state-of-the-art defense involves asserting a product conformed to safety standards at the time, even if these were subsequently rejected.

In 2009, a 9th Circuit panel ruled a police officer can be sued on grounds of using excessive force of using a Taser on an agitated driver.