$5.2 Million Taser Death Award Cut By Judge
The family of a man who died after being stunned by Taser-wielding police has had their $5.2 million award reduced to $180,000 by a federal judge. Robert C. Heston was stunned numerous times at his father’s house in Salinas, California in February 2005. Heston was allegedly in a methamphetamine-induced state when he was confronted by the police. Police hit Heston numerous times, shocking him some two dozen times. Defense attorneys argued that some of the prongs missed Heston.
The judge in the case agreed with Taser International attorneys that the jury could only award punitive damages if it found the company knew there was a potential for death in the use of its product, and intentionally sold it without warnings. The jury found Taser failed to warn the Salinas police department about the weapon’s risks, but didn’t believe the company knew the Taser could cause cardiac arrest – even if it should have. This verdict cleared Taser of product defect liabilities, which carried punitive damages.
The judge rejected Taser International’s motion for a new trial, claiming there was sufficient evidence to find the company liable for negligence in Heston’s death, as well as compensatory damages. Taser’s general counsel said punitive damages are not allowed under California law on negligent failure to warn.
There are two more trials coming up involving lawsuits against California police and their use of Tasers against individuals.