St. Louis jury rejects liability suit against Taser

2012-12-13T12:30:00Z 2013-08-09T08:34:13Z St. Louis jury rejects liability suit against TaserBy Jennifer Mann 314-621-5804

ST. LOUIS • A jury returned a verdict in favor of Taser International on Thursday morning in a civil suit that claimed the company failed to properly warn of the dangers of its stun gun.

The verdict in St. Louis Circuit Court came after about seven hours of deliberations and a trial that lasted a week and a half.

The product liability suit was filed on behalf of Colin Fahy, of St. Louis, who went into cardiac arrest after St. Louis police shot him with a Taser at his home while responding to a domestic disturbance on Dec. 7, 2007. Fahy, 17 at the time, recovered but claimed brain damage, mostly to his short-term and working memory.

Lawyers for Fahy argued that Taser knew then of the dangers of firing the device, which delivers an electric shock, toward someone’s chest but failed to warn police in manuals and training. They pointed to studies on pigs in 2005 and 2006, including one funded by the Scottsdale, Ariz., manufacturer, that showed such a shot could interfere with a heart’s rhythm.

The company now includes the warning, “Avoid chest shots if possible.”

But lawyers for Taser said none of those studies showed cardiac arrest, and only heart disturbances at 15 times the typical Taser charge. They suggested Fahy’s cardiac arrest was actually caused by being handcuffed in an agitated state. The lawyers also argued that a warning wouldn’t have made a difference, because the involved officer was forced to use the Taser when Fahy lunged toward her, without time to make a decision on where to aim.

The jury would have had to decide two things to hold the company responsible: first, that the Taser directly caused Fahy’s cardiac arrest, and second, that the product was sold without an adequate warning of its risks.

Bill Dowd, one of Fahy’s attorneys, said he was disappointed and looking at appeal options.

A lawsuit Fahy filed against St. Louis police over the incident was settled out of court in 2010 for $95,000, according to the department.

The Taser is used by law enforcement across the country as an alternative to deadly force. It momentarily disables a suspect with a hit by two barbed darts on wires carrying 50,000 volts into the skin.

St. Louis police, according to the lawyers, began using Tasers in 2004. The X26 model used on Fahy wasn’t sold until March 2007. Department policy instructs officers to avoid using Tasers on certain people, including the elderly, young children, people in wheelchairs, pregnant women or people with known heart problems.

Jennifer Mann covers state courts and the criminal justice system. Follow j_s_mann on Twitter.

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