As Tasers have become a common weapon in U.S. policing, so too have wrongful death lawsuits. As the human toll mounts, the litigation toll is increasingly borne by the public, Reuters reports in the second of a series. At least 442 wrongful death suits have been filed over fatalities that followed the use of a Taser, almost all since the stun guns began gaining widespread popularity with police in the early 2000s. Police departments and the municipalities they represent have faced 435 of these suits. The manufacturer was a defendant in 128. Wrongful death lawsuits were filed in at least 44 percent of the 1,000-plus incidents Reuters identified in which someone died after being stunned with a Taser by police. In most cases, the Taser was one factor alleged in a broader array of force applied, such as punches, baton strikes and pepper spray.
In more than 60 percent of the resolved cases against municipalities, government defendants paid settlements or judgments. While many settlement amounts are unavailable or remain secret under confidentiality agreements, Reuters documented at least $172 million in publicly funded payouts to resolve the litigation. The claims illustrate the risks and confusion over a weapon embraced by about 90 percent of U.S. 18,000 police forces as an alternative to firearms. In 2009, as evidence of cardiac risks mounted, Taser warned police to avoid firing its stun gun’s electrified darts at a person’s chest. Since then, Taser has been a party to just one in five cases filed, and lawyers who frequently handle Taser-related litigation say the manufacturer’s warnings have made it far more difficult to win damages against the company. So now, in nearly every case, plaintiffs are suing governments, not the manufacturer. Wrongful death lawsuits filed against Taser have slowed to a trickle.