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Taser lawsuit dismissal is upheld on appeal

9th Circuit Court says Taser International had no reason to advise in 2004 that repeated jolts from its stun guns could cause a condition that raises heart attack risk.

July 11, 2012|By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • A sales person demonstrates the use of a Taser; a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the stun gun's manufacturer in a lawsuit stemming from a man's death.
A sales person demonstrates the use of a Taser; a federal appeals court ruled… (Karen BLeier, AFP/Getty…)

A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against the manufacturer of Tasers, ruling the company had no duty to warn that repeated jolts from the stun guns could trigger death.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed unanimously that Arizona-based Taser International had no reason to advise police agencies in 2004 that the stun guns could cause metabolic acidosis, a condition in which lactic acid, produced during physical exertion, accumulates more quickly than the body can expel it. The condition raises the risk of a heart attack.

The parents of Michael Rosa, 38, who died in 2004 after police repeatedly shocked him with electricity from Tasers, sued the manufacturer on the grounds the company should have warned of the risk. The company maintains there is no evidence that Tasers cause acidosis but began warning about it anyway in 2009.

The suit stemmed from an incident in the Monterey County city of Del Rey Oaks. Someone called police to report that a "pretty disturbed" man was walking around and yelling. The first officer on the scene believed the man, Rosa, was "either really high or crazy" and called for backup, the court said. More officers arrived, and officers repeatedly fired Tasers at Rosa before wrangling him into handcuffs.

"At this point, Michael slumped, his lips blue, his breathing erratic," Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain wrote for the court. "He quickly stopped breathing entirely."

Efforts to resuscitate Rosa failed, and he died shortly thereafter. High levels of methamphetamines were discovered in his blood, and his death eventually was linked to acidosis, the court said. But studies previous to the Rosa incident failed to substantiate that Tasers cause acidosis, the court said.

John Maley, an attorney for the company, said it has been sued several times on the grounds the weapon caused the condition. One case led to a jury award of about $200,000 against the company. Maley said he hoped Tuesday's ruling would end the litigation.

"The science even today doesn't establish that dangerous acidosis results from Taser application," Maley said. He said the company decided to issue warnings only to avoid potential liability.

Peter Williamson, one of Rosa's lawyers, disagreed, citing a 2005 study that he said showed Tasers can trigger the deadly condition. The Rosa suit was dismissed only because the death occurred before that study was published, Williamson said.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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