The zap-happy folks at Scottsdale-based Taser International are the subject of a new lawsuit seeking punitive damages from the company for fraudulently misrepresenting its products as non-lethal.
The lawsuit stems from a January 2008 incident in Nevada, where a Las Vegas doctor died after he was stunned five times with a police Taser on a Las Vegas freeway.
News reports of the incident and accounts given in the lawsuit differ, however, but here is the gist of it: According to the suit, uncovered by Courthouse News, Dr. Ryan Rich, 33, was driving to work on a Las Vegas freeway about 1 p.m. on January 8, 2008, when he had a seizure. The seizure reportedly caused Rich to hit several cars and draw the attention of police. Rich pulled his truck over to the side of the road, where he was met by Nevada Highway Patrolman Loren Lazoff.
When Lazoff got to the car, Rich, according to the suit, was left "dazed, confused, and disoriented." Lazoff smashed open the driver-side window of the truck and removed the keys from the ignition. Rich was ordered out of the car, and as he was being handcuffed, he resisted and "began to run in the direction of the traffic lanes."
That's when things got electric.
Lazoff pulled out his Taser and zapped Rich five times -- three times at 50,000 volts for five seconds, and twice while the weapon was in "stun mode."
Rich was pronounced dead at a Las Vegas hospital less than an hour later.
Local news reports of the story tell a similar story, but with a few tweaks.
A report from the Las Vegas Review Journal says Rich was fleeing from police when he crashed his car into the highway median and then started a fight with Lazoff and a passing motorist, who stopped to help the officer. Rich, according to the report, had no criminal record, and police were trying to understand what would cause him to run.
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Calls to the Nevada Highway Patrol and Taser International were not immediately returned.
A coroner's investigation found that Lazoff's actions were justified, given the situation, but Rich's family feels that Taser International failed to disclose that the risk of ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest is significantly increased when someone is shot near the heart, and failed to warn the Highway Patrol that police vehicles should carry defibrillators in case a suspect goes into cardiac arrest after getting zapped.
The lawsuit comes just days after the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals demanded that limits be placed on when officers can use a Taser on a suspect.
Rich's family is seeking unspecified punitive damages.