taser.thumbnail.jpgSaying that the device manufacturer did not inform police of the lethality of the Tasers sold to the department, a federal judge last Thursday ordered the company to pay the lawyers of the family of a man killed by the Salinas, CA, police department more than $1.4million in damages.

Judge James Ware acknowledged that the $1,423,000 award far exceeds the $183,000 in damages he approved for Heston’s family, but said the attorneys had taken on a considerable risk in pursuing a case that served a significant public benefit.

The case marked the first time Taser was found negligent in a death related to the use of its stun guns. In June, a jury awarded Heston’s family more than $5 million in damages after finding that Taser failed to warn Salinas police of the potentially fatal dangers of shocking a subject numerous times. 

Almost all of that jury award was thrown out by the judge when he determined that the victim was 85% at fault for the Tasering because he was high on crystal methamphetamine at the time. (A lethal Taser chaser with your Tina — who knew you’d be "asking for it" just by doing some crank?) But because he’d reduced the award to the victim’s family, leaving little for the lawyers, the judge decided to make Taser pay the lawyers separately.  

To the tune of almost a million and a half dollars.

This may motivate the plaintiff’s bar to pursue the manufacturer in other Taser deaths in federal court without regard for likely reductions in jury awards due to the victims’ begging to be Tasered by using crystal beforehand — or by other misbehavior that some judge decides makes the Taser death mostly the victims’ fault.

Additionally, the victim’s family’s attorney de-incentivized Taser’s promised appeal:

Burton said he has already warned the company that if it appeals, he will seek reinstatement of punitive damages.

The company, he said, is irresponsible to the public, to police departments and "to its shareholders, who now are being exposed to reimposition of $5 million in uninsured losses because of their egos."

In July, Heston and Peterson will take Taser before another federal jury in the case of Michael Robert Rosa, 38, of Del Rey Oaks, who died in 2004 after he was stunned multiple times by Seaside police.

If lawyers don’t fear a reduction of their fees due to dead Taser victims’ anti-social behavior, we may see more lawyers confront Taser Inc on behalf of grieving families.  And what dead Taser victim can speak up when charged with anti-social behavior in a court case?

Taser Inc makes these lethal weapons and advertises them to law enforcement as an alternative to deadly force. When Tasered citizens die, the company should be liable.  When lawyers fight for justice for the families, the lawyers should get paid.

Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge