A former sheriff's deputy suing stun gun maker Taser International Inc. never would have agreed to be shocked during training if he had known the potential dangers of the stun gun, his lawyer told jurors Wednesday.
The case brought by retired Deputy Samuel Powers is the first product liability lawsuit against Taser to go to trial. The maker of the popular stun guns has been the subject of increasing scrutiny by human rights groups and some law enforcement agencies.
Powers, a former deputy at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, said he suffered a spinal fracture as a result of being shocked with a Taser in 2002 while he was being certified to carry the weapon. He says the injury forced him to retire early after 16 years with the department.
During opening statements on Wednesday, Powers' attorney John Dillingham told jurors the veteran deputy had no idea he could be hurt by the Taser.
Powers testified that as he understood it, a Taser "couldn't hurt me other than a temporary little pain and then it's done."
But Dillingham told jurors that even an orthopedic surgeon hired by Taser to review Powers' case concluded the 47-year-old sustained the "compress fracture" as a result of the shock.
Powers is suing for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Scottsdale-based Taser maintains its weapon wasn't responsible for the injury, pointing out that Powers had osteoporosis and had previously suffered two herniated disks in his back.
"He had a complete medical history that only he knew about," said Taser attorney Christina Reid-Moore.
At the time Powers was shocked, the sheriff's office required all officers who carried Tasers to experience a Taser shock to help understand the weapon's full paralyzing effect. Tasers deliver a 50,000-volt jolt by two barbed darts that can penetrate clothing.
The sheriff's office no longer requires that deputies be hit with the stun guns.
Dillingham claims that Taser didn't provide adequate warning about the weapon and rushed it to market without sufficient medical testing.
"Even if Sam knew he had osteoporosis, it made no difference because Taser failed to have any warning of any kind of the risks," Dillingham said.
The company began selling Tasers to law enforcement in 1998. Today, more than 8,000 law-enforcement agencies in the United States have armed their officers with Tasers.
With increased use, Tasers have come under increased scrutiny. The stun guns have been blamed for a growing list of accidental deaths nationwide, prompting some police departments to reconsider the necessity of the devices and some lawmakers to push for legislation restricting their use.
Amnesty International has compiled a list of more than 100 people it says have died after being shocked in scuffles with lawmen since June 2001.
Taser has consistently denied that its products are to blame in the deaths, arguing that none have been directly linked to Tasers. The company also contends Tasers have saved thousands of lives, giving police an option short of deadly force when confronted by combative suspects.
Powers' trial is expected to last 15 to 18 days. His is one of approximately 35 personal injury, wrongful death, or excessive use of force lawsuits that have been filed against the company. Taser executives have vowed to fight all the suits in court.