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Stun guns have triggered lawsuits nationwide by police officers who allege that the weapons are too dangerous to use, and by individuals who claim that many people have been injured or killed after being shocked with the gun. Currently, more than a dozen individual lawsuits—both wrongful death and products liability claims—are pending against Arizona-based Taser International Inc., the stun gun’s manufacturer, in Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Nevada and Oklahoma. And a class action was filed last month in Illinois against Taser alleging that the company misled police departments about the gun’s safety, failed to notify them of potential risks and did not adequately test the weapon. Village of Dolton v. Taser Intl., No. 05 C 4126 (N.D. Ill.). The suit was filed on behalf of Dolton, Ill., a Chicago suburb, which wants Taser to refund the more than $8,000 it paid for eight stun guns that are no longer being used due to safety concerns. “Police departments throughout the country bought Tasers under the belief that these were nonlethal weapons that could be used fairly freely to help the police do their job. It turns out that these products are very, very dangerous,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Paul Geller of the Boca Raton, Fla., office of Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins. Geller said police departments in at least 15 states have contacted him about possibly joining the class if certified. But Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle defended the safety of the stun guns and denied allegations in the class action. “The claims made in the lawsuit are based on inaccurate and incomplete news clippings rather than independent review and scientific fact. Taser International stands by the safety of its products,” Tuttle said. “The Taser brand devices have been the most thoroughly tested of any use-of-force tools available to law enforcement.” Tuttle said that dozens of independent studies conducted by leading medical and law enforcement experts, including the U.S. Department of Defense, support the stun gun’s safety and effectiveness. According to Taser, more than 7,200 police departments nationwide are either using or testing the stun guns. But plaintiffs’ attorneys remain skeptical about the gun’s safety, noting several police departments nationwide-including ones in Ohio; Chicago; and Birmingham, Ala.-have either stopped using or buying Tasers amid safety concerns. Lawyers argue that stun guns are often used on suspects who are already in an excited state-either because of drug use or mental illness-and are more likely to cause death under those conditions. “You take someone who’s jacked up from [cocaine] or mentally ill and you zap them a couple of times for five seconds a shot and it interferes with their breathing, their carbon dioxide and they die,” said attorney Andrew Roth of Roth & Roth in Riverside, Calif. Roth is representing the parents of a 40-year-old male who died after being shot with a stun gun. Pierson v. Taser, No. SACV04-1460 (C.D. Calif.). Roth said his client was on speed and standing in the middle of an intersection near a shopping area in Brea, Calif. “Rather than put their hands on him, [police] Tasered him,” he said, noting that his client died immediately. Arizona suits Charles Struble, an attorney with Renaud Cook Drury Mesaros in Phoenix who is defending Taser in several products liability suits in Arizona, denounced plaintiffs’ lawyers claims. “If they look at the results of the testing and the evaluation that’s been done,” Struble said, “the device is reasonably safe and it meets the guidelines of a nonlethal weapon.” Thomas Wilmer, a Phoenix solo practitioner, is handling seven stun gun lawsuits filed on behalf of police officers in Maricopa County Superior Court. Wilmer said his clients suffered a variety of injuries while in training with the gun, including a separated shoulder, fractured teeth that led to infection and spinal injuries. He claims that there were no warnings about the risk of injury. “Some of these guys have had their lives ruined. They lost their careers,” said Wilmer, who is handling the cases along with Phoenix lawyer John Dillingham of Dillingham & Reynolds. According to Amnesty International, more than 70 people in the U.S. and Canada have died after being shot with a stun gun since 2001. While medical examiners have ruled that most of those deaths resulted from health problems, the issue for plaintiffs’ lawyers is proving that the stun gun contributed to, or caused, death.

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