Product Liability

Are Taser Guns As Safe As They Say?

Taser guns are commonly used by the police to immobilize a person deemed a threat.

Electric pulses and strong muscle contractions work by shooting two metal probes that release electricity into the body, causing neuromuscular incapacitation. They short-circuit the electrical signals in the body, making the people feel as if they are in a full-body charley horse, but don’t cause unconsciousness.

Manufacturers insist that they’re safe, however, human rights groups complain tasers can lead to heart attacks and other injuries.

Are Tasers Safe?

While insisting they’re safe, stun-gun maker Taser International recently changed its policy, causing many people to question just how safe these guns really are.

The company recently advised police agencies to avoid firing the guns at suspects' chests, explaining there's an "’extremely low’ risk of ill effects on the heart.” The company maintains that avoiding chest-shooting “will make defending lawsuits easier.”

Training Manual Change

Accordingly, the company revised its training manual in October 2009, justifying that this change "has less to do with safety and more to do with effective risk management for law enforcement agencies." However, the manual includes a long explanation about deaths caused by sudden cardiac arrest from taser guns.

The manual states:” "Should sudden cardiac arrest occur in a scenario involving a Taser discharge to the chest area, it would place the law enforcement agency, the officer, and Taser International in the difficult situation of trying to ascertain what role, if any, (the device) could have played."

To avoid both potential deaths and lawsuits, the manual shows the preferred target areas -   anywhere but at the head, neck and chest. The manual stresses avoiding chest shots "when possible" and "unless legally justified."

Is this a Warning or an Admission of Risk?

Critics see the new guidance as an admission that the guns can cause heart attacks. It’s "a passive acknowledgment that Taser has indeed been overconfident about its claims of safety," commented Mark Silverstein, legal director of Colorado’s American Civil Liberties Union. "It underscores the question marks that have been adding up along with hundreds of bodies."

Taser officials maintain that the new advice is designed only to "avoid any potential controversy on this topic." According to Amnesty International, more than 350 people in the U.S. died after being shot with Tasers, and that in many cases, medical examiners saw a link between the Taser shock and death.

Why Would Taser International Get Sued?

After a police officer uses a taser on a person, and the person had an adverse reaction or death, the victim or his survivors could file a wrongful death or personal injury lawsuit. Their lawsuits assert that taser gun use caused the person’s injury or death and they’re seeking damages.

Lawsuits can include the gun maker. Taser International has been a sued in more than 50 products liability actions, all charging that tasers are inherently too dangerous. Even police officers have filed personal injury lawsuits against the company after being injured when the device was used to shock them during training presentations.

Taser International’s new policy seems like a double-edged sword. It may prevent new injuries and may shield the company from future lawsuits by acting as a preventative warning. However, the policy also hints that these stun guns do actually pose a danger and may have long-term effects, an admission that the company, thus far, has refused to fully acknowledge.

Question For Your Attorney

  • As an average citizen, am I allowed to carry a taser gun for my safety?
  • Could I be sued if a person I tasered suffered any injuries?
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