Federal Court Denies Taser International Inc's Motion to Dismiss Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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United States District Judge James Ware of the Northern District of California today denied Taser International INC's motion to dismiss claims arising from the February 20, 2005, death of a Monterey County, California, man following repeated shocks from one of its electric shock weapons.

United States District Judge James Ware of the Northern District of California today denied Taser International’s motion to dismiss claims arising from the February 20, 2005, death of a Monterey County, California, man following repeated shocks from one of its electric weapons.

On February 20, 2005, Robert Heston, Jr. began acting erratically inside his family’s Salinas, California home. His father, believing his son might be under the influence of drugs, called the police reporting his bizarre behavior. Officers from the Salinas Police Department responded to the Heston home and confronted Mr. Heston. Approximately 4-5 police officers used their Taser electric weapons repeatedly as other officers restrained Heston on the ground. Heston stopped breathing, and then died shortly thereafter.

In the lawsuit, Heston v. City of Salinas, et al., N.D. Cal. Case No. C 05-03658 JW, Heston’s parents alleged that Taser electric shock weapons are unreasonably dangerous and defective for use on human beings because they are sold without warning about the effect of multiple shocks for extended durations, the danger of shocking people who are under the influence of drugs, and the effects of Taser shocks on respiration. The weapon, when used repeatedly and in combination with aggressive police restraints, causes unnecessary deaths.

Taser International, Inc., asked the district court to dismiss the claims of the Heston family, contending that (1) Robert Heston’s death was not reasonably foreseeable, (2) its product is not inherently dangerous, and (3) it had no duty to warn of the dangers of its product.

Judge Ware denied Taser International’s Motion to Dismiss without comment. Taser International has been ordered to respond to plaintiffs’ complaint. No trial date has been set in the case as yet.

Judge Ware’s ruling follows on the heals of a similar ruling by United States District Judge Jeremy Vogel on March 7, 2006 in the case of Rosa v. City of Seaside, N.D. Cal. Case No. C 05-03577 JF. That case, which is also being litigated by Messrs. Burton and Williamson, involves the death of Michael Rosa on August 29, 2004 after he had been repeatedly subjected to multiple uses of Taser electric weapons by police officers from several police agencies.

In denying Taser International’s Motion to Dismiss, Judge Fogel ruled that Taser has a duty to design and manufacture its products to avoid foreseeable dangers arising from their use, and to warn its customers and users of any foreseeable dangers that could arise when people such as Michael Rosa are shocked repeatedly and then subjected to aggressive restraint procedures. No trial date has been set in this case either.

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Peter Williamson
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