- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2015

A federal appeals court Friday affirmed a ruling that Taser International — the manufacturer of law-enforcement stun guns — isn’t liable for the death of a Michigan teenager in 2009.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said that they agreed Taser hadn’t been negligent nor failed to sufficiently warn police about the potentially lethal effects of one of its devices, the X26. The suit was the second brought concerning an incident six years ago in which an officer used the weapon on Robert Mitchell, 16, who later went into cardiac arrest and died.

“This is a significant published opinion coming out of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirming that litigation against Taser based on speculative medical causation theories and mere possibilities, instead of probabilities, will not suffice,” Steve Tuttle, Taser’s vice president of strategic communications, said in a statement to The Washington Times.

On April 10, 2009, Officer Jesse Lapham of the Warren Police Department near Detroit used an X26 while trying to apprehend the teen, according to court documents. The boy had fled from a car that had been pulled over for expired tags and was hiding in a nearby abandoned house before eventually agreeing to surrender.

A scuffle ensued during the process, however, and Officer Lapham fired his Taser. Mitchell was struck by two of the gun’s darts within inches from his heart on either side, went into cardiac arrest and died. An autopsy concluded “use of an electrical delivery device [was] a contributing factor.”

A lawsuit against the department and Officer Lapham was settled out of court, and the claim against Taser had already been rejected in the Eastern District of Michigan. Friday’s ruling upholds that court’s earlier finding that Taser had no duty to warn the police department about any cardiac risks at the time of sale in 2006, and that state law precludes Taser from any “post-sale duty to warn.”

Attorneys for Mitchell’s mother had argued that Taser didn’t do enough to let customers know the X26 could cause cardiac arrest. But the appeals court ruled “the field use of Tasers and the medical literature before August 2006 fail to create a triable issue of fact about Taser’s duty to warn.”

“Taser had not assumed a duty to warn by virtue of its training regimen, and … [Mitchell’s mother] could not prove that Lapham would have ever seen a warning even if Taser had issued one,” the court ruled.

Bill Goodman, a co-counsel in the case for the team suing the company, told The Times it “disappointing” that the circuit court judges were “drinking the same Kool-Aid that Taser has been distributing around the country for some time,” but said he was encouraged by a dissenting judge’s opinion that the case should be reheard before the full circuit, and not three justices alone.

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