Inquiry findings hurt Taser's business, company to say
VANCOUVER - A British Columbia public inquiry's conclusion that a jolt from a Taser can be lethal wasn't based on all of the evidence and has hurt the manufacturer's business around the world, the company will argue in court this week.
Taser International filed a petition demanding the findings be thrown out, and the case will be heard in B.C. Supreme Court starting Monday.
Commissioner Thomas Braidwood, who oversaw two sets of hearings following the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport, released a report last year that found Tasers can be fatal and their use should be restricted, although he also said they are a necessary tool for police.
But Taser International argues Braidwood didn't take into account all of the information the company provided, and that it wasn't given an opportunity to respond before the report was released.
The Arizona-based company says the report has forced it to travel the world to defend its products, and the findings prompted law enforcement officials in Africa to scrap a contract worth "tens of millions of dollars."
"His (Braidwood's) decisions on the medical effects of a Taser CEW (conducted energy weapon) discharge on the human heart unfairly damaged and continue to damage Taser's reputation and commercial interests," co-founder Thomas Smith says in an affidavit filed with the court last week.
"The commissioner's decision . . . has been raised in virtually every meeting I have had with customers and potential customers since the report was released."
The report followed the first phase of a public inquiry announced in the wake of Dziekanski's death in October 2007, when he was confronted by four RCMP officers and repeatedly stunned with a Taser.
Braidwood said there was inadequate medical evidence on the exact risk of Taser use, but he said there was enough to conclude the weapons have the capacity to affect the heart and cause a fatal arrhythmia.
He also questioned some of the studies and statistics provided by Taser, saying their methodology and results were insufficient to conclude, as the company does, that the weapons cannot affect the heart.
A second report examining Dziekanski's death in detail, released last month, said that while the exact cause of the Polish man's death is unknown the multiple jolts from the Taser likely played the greatest role.
Initially, Taser's petition also accused the commission's lead lawyer and its medical adviser of bias, but a judge later forced the company to drop those complaints, calling them "an abuse of process."
B.C.'s attorney general, the lawyer representing the province in the case and the commission's lawyer declined to comment on the petition, but Braidwood was asked about it in June as he released his report into Dziekanski's death.
"I certainly read all their material, I read everything, it doesn't mean to say I'm going to put it all in a report," Braidwood told a news conference.
"Let me just say I disagree with them."
Taser also declined comment.
There are thousands of Tasers in use across the country by the RCMP, municipal police and other law enforcement personnel, such as sheriffs and corrections officers.
The B.C. government and the RCMP have both endorsed Braidwood's recommendations and restricted how and when the weapon can be used.
Taser has a long track record of vigorously -- and successfully -- defending its weapons in court.
The company has faced dozens of wrongful death lawsuits and sends legal demands to media outlets that suggest Tasers are responsible for anyone's death.
When an Ohio medical examiner ruled that three men's deaths were in part caused by the effects of Tasers, the company sued.
In May 2008, a judge ordered the medical examiner to change the autopsy findings to delete any references that suggested the stun guns were to blame.
Last year, Taser International sent out a news release boasting it had successfully won its 100th dismissal of a liability lawsuit.
However, the company cannot claim a perfect legal record: in 2008 a California jury ruled the weapon was at least partially responsible for the death of a man who died in police custody.