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Ninth Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict Against TASER, But Reverses Damages Award

While affirming a jury verdict finding TASER International liable in the death of Robert Heston, a conservative Ninth Circuit panel effectively gutted the judgment by reversing the compensatory damages award to Heston's estate. Adding insult to injury, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court had, on the one hand, erred in awarding attorney's fees to the plaintiffs, but, on the other hand, not erred in vacating the punitive damages award to the estate.

As to the latter point, the Ninth Circuit noted that while, according to the jury, a "reasonable manufacturer" would have known that prolonged TASER deployment could cause cardiac arrest (as it did in this case), the jury here found that TASER did not actually know of that risk. Therefore, although TASER’s efforts to warn customers about the risks posed by prolonged TASER deployment may have been insufficient, its conduct ammounted, at most, to negligence. Because the conduct did not rise to the level of "conscious and deliberate disregard of the interests of others," the evidence simply did not support an award of punitive damages. See: Heston v. TASER International, Case No. 09-15327, (9th Cir. 2011).

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Related legal case

Heston v. TASER International