Wrongful Death and Police Abuse of Tasers

We all respect the difficult job that California’s law enforcement officers do every day. But when excessive force by police leads to the wrongful death of a civilian, it may be necessary and appropriate to take legal action against the responsible law enforcement agency, and in some cases even the companies that manufactured the equipment used by officers in causing the fatal injuries. For example, if police use a conducted electrical weapon (ECW) to subdue a person who is either suspected of a crime or suffering from a mental illness, and the shock from that device leads to death, the victim’s family may be entitled to compensation due to excessive force or defects in the manufacture of the device itself.

LA Jury Awards $5.5 Million After Police Taser Marine Veteran to Death

On November 13, a jury sitting in Los Angeles federal court found the Los Angeles Police Department used “excessive and unreasonable force” in killing a man with a Taser, a type of ECW popular with law enforcement agencies. The victim was a 39-year-old decorated veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who had fallen on hard times and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and cocaine addiction. The victim’s roommate had called 911 seeking medical assistance. Five LAPD officers arrived on the scene and, finding the victim in a frantic state, decided to restrain him using force. According to news reports, one officer used his Taser “six separate times over the course of 3 minutes, once for 32 seconds straight.” This was more than double the length of exposure recommended by law enforcement industry standards.

The repeated Taser use, combined with the victim’s recent use of cocaine, led to fatal cardiac arrest. The coroner’s autopsy expressly stated that “police restraint with use of Taser” was a cause of death. It is also important to emphasize the victim was not suspected or accused of any crime; he was a mentally ill individual who had a treatable drug problem.

In the family’s subsequent wrongful death lawsuit, the City of Los Angeles tried to argue the victim was solely responsible for his own death, and that the excessive force by police was necessary to restrain an “out of control” person. The jury did not buy this. Instead, it ordered the City to pay $5.5 million in damages, which the family’s personal injury attorney described as “one of the largest wrongful death civil rights verdicts ever,” as well as “one of the largest verdicts involving the use of Taser.”

Indeed, Taser-related wrongful death litigation is more common than you might think. According to a recent investigative report published by Reuters, there are “1,005 people who have died in the United States following encounters with police in which Tasers were used either on their own or, more often, as part of a larger mosaic of force.” In more than 150 of these fatal incidents, Taser use was cited as an official cause of death. There have been more than 400 wrongful death lawsuits filed following Taser-related deaths, including 128 that named the device’s manufacturer, Taser International, as a co-defendant.

Based on its analysis, Reuters said that about 60% of Taser-related wrongful death lawsuits “resulted in judgments or settlements for the plaintiffs,” leading to total payouts in excess of $172 million.

How can We Help Your Family Following a Wrongful Death?

If you have lost a family member due to any kind of excessive force or other third-party negligence, you need to speak with an experienced Pasadena wrongful death attorney who can advise you of your legal rights. Contact Strassburg, Gilmore, & Wei, Attorneys at Law at (626) 683-9933 to schedule a consultation today.

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