A class action lawsuit against Taser International, Inc., the Arizona-based manufacturer of police stun guns, was filed on July 18, 2005 in Chicago U.S. District Court on behalf of the Dolton, Illinois police department (DPD), alleging breach of contract, breach of warranty and unjust enrichment stemming from false safety claims and false representation of material facts concerning the product's safety. In short, the suit claims that Taser fraudulently gained 135,000 stun gun sales to over 7,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide by misleading buyers into believing the guns were safe to use in subduing suspects.
So far, the DPD is the only named plaintiff in the diversity action. The federal court venue was chosen because Taser is a Delaware corporation, because class members from all states are anticipated and because damages are estimated to exceed $5 million, according to plaintiff's attorney Paul Geller of Boca Raton, Florida. Although over 100 deaths from police operated Taser guns have been reported across the country, none has occurred in Dolton, a predominantly black Chicago community of 26,000 people. But Dolton's police Chief Ron Burge suspended use of the stun guns in May 2005, citing safety concerns. Dolton is suing because it cannot afford to own guns it cannot safely use.
The essence of the complaint is that Taser's stun guns are in fact dangerous and were negligently marketed based upon inadequate research, claiming they were safe, non-lethal substitutes for deadly force. Taser International has no idea of how [its 50,000 volt] Tasers impact ... pregnant women, the elderly, young adults and children, individuals with heart conditions and individuals with implantable cardiac devices," Geller stated.
Of particular interest are recent studies showing the fatal susceptibility to Taser's high voltage shocks by persons who are high on cocaine or are on an adrenaline rush. A number of the 30 Taser-related deaths in Florida alone were suspects known to be high on drugs. Cocaine by itself is thought to cause heart rhythm problems; 50,000 volts from a Taser stun gun might well exacerbate the risk of heart failure.
A Denver Post study reported that 90% of person's tasered by the Denver Police Department were unarmed, and 2/3 were only facing a citation or a misdemeanor charge. The Palm Beach Post reported that the Palm Beach County police had tasered three pregnant women, an 86 year-old man, and children as young as 13.
It has been suggested that police are falsely lulled by Taser's claims of safety into using Tasers rather than more appropriate lesser force- thus literally increasing the likelihood of the death of suspects.
Taser's own safety studies were reported in the New York Times last year to have been conducted on animals. After having safely tested their product on dogs and pigs, Taser recommended in their training manual that police officers undergo sample shocks as part of their Taser training.
Taser International's stock was also stunned. Down from a high of $33 in the past year, it hovered near $10 after reporting an 89% drop in earnings on a 19% drop in sales, for the fiscal quarter reported on July 20, 2005. The stock was also hurt by a June 3, 2005 article in USA Today likening Taser's X-26 model to an electric chair. Taser is suing the newspaper for libel over this.
Sources: Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, Washington Business journal, AZ Central.com .
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