A federal judge ruled this week that an upstate New York sheriff’s deputy can’t sue Taser International for the neck injury he suffered when he was voluntarily stunned with one of the company’s devices during training.
U.S. District Judge Neal McCurn noted that Oswego County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Kandt signed the standard liability waiver that says broken bones, including vertebrae, are among the injuries risked from muscle contractions when a person is shocked.
Kandt testified that he understood the warning but that other language in the waiver led him to believe it applied mainly to people with previous injuries or conditions like osteoporosis. In a 2011 deposition, the deputy said he suffered compression fractures to several vertebrae and compressed several disks. He had surgery but still had pain and short-term memory loss. He had stayed employed as a deputy since the May 2007 incident, he said.
“There was a couple handouts passed out, a short video, then we lined up to take the hits,” Kandt said in the deposition. Deputies who wanted to use the electronic device, meant to subdue combative suspects, had to take the course taught by a sheriff’s sergeant who was a certified instructor. Kandt left in an ambulance after about an hour, he said.
Questioned by company lawyers, he acknowledged being aware that Taser International doesn’t require instructors or users to be shocked in order to get certified, though he said he didn’t know that at the time. He wasn’t required to take the course, he said.
The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based manufacturer argued that its warning is clear and unambiguous. Kandt’s attorneys presented affidavits from several other officers saying they would not have agreed to get shocked had they known they could have suffered broken vertebrae and a declaration from the sheriff “that he would not have mandated that trainees receive an exposure if he had known of the risk.”
“Here, it is clear that the level of risk involved, vertebral fractures, is high,” McCurn wrote. “On its face, the warning unequivocally states that there is a risk.”
Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd said Friday that Kandt gets paid under a line-of-duty disability provision and has not worked since the injury. “There’s nobody who feels bad for this poor kid more than me,” he said.
The sheriff’s department still uses Tasers, deputies still have the choice of being jolted and nobody else has been injured in the training, Todd said. “They are a good tool,” he said, one that has kept deputies from getting hurt.
Calls to Kandt’s lawyers weren’t immediately returned.
According to the company’s website, as of March 31, it had sold about 607,000 devices worldwide to more than 16,880 police and military agencies. It had sold an additional 247,000 to the public. Through last year, they had been used at least 1.5 million times in the field and nearly 1.4 million times in training. It said Taser use has resulted in steep reductions in both police and suspect injuries.
“This is unusual,” spokesman Steve Tuttle said of the training lawsuit. The company has faced nearly 200 product liability suits over the past 18 years and lost only two, which followed arrest-related deaths, he said.
“The exposure itself is an invaluable training tool,” Tuttle said, adding that company staffers also go through it. “They understand what the limitations of Tasers are.”
While the five-second shock is uncomfortable, it’s powered only by two camera batteries and a suspect will generally recover fully instantly afterward, he said. Officers also learn they can touch someone and remove the Taser’s probes during that five seconds without getting shocked.
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