Suing Police for Stun Gun Injuries and Deaths
Stun guns, including conducted electrical weapons such as TASER devices, are an often-used device used by police officers. They are used to detain a person resisting arrest or to stop someone in the commission of a felony offense. While stun guns can be effective in the right circumstances, they are often misused by law enforcement and result in unwarranted serious harm and even deaths.
The common public perception is that stun guns are always appropriate because, unlike firearms, that are not designed for deadly force. However, when improperly used or utilized in the wrong circumstance, they can constitute the use of deadly or excessive force. People unlawfully harmed by the stun gun can file an excessive force or deadly force lawsuit when law enforcement officials use stun guns in an unlawful manner.
Depending upon the circumstances of the case, many different parties may be liable for serious or deadly injuries. These can include the individual police officer, the police department, the county or state, and even the designer or manufacturer of the stun gun.
The number of civil lawsuits filed against law enforcement agencies for stun gun injuries is on the rise. Almost five hundred police stun gun lawsuits have been filed in the last twenty years out of just over one thousand stun gun deaths. This means half of all stun gun deaths are believed to be unlawful and the use of unjustified force under the circumstances.
A victim of the unlawful use of a stun gun can sue the police officers and government entity in several ways. These include a direct claim against the officer who fired the stun gun, the employing law enforcement agency, as well as the municipality employing the officer. There have also been civil product liability lawsuits filed against the stun gun manufacturers.
The most used legal theories in stun gun injury lawsuits are founded in violations of the United States Constitution and other civil rights violations. For example, claims are brought for violations of the Fourth Amendment protection against the use of excessive and deadly force by police officers. Other claims sound in negligence, gross negligence, and strict liability depending on the jurisdiction the case is filed. The manner in which the case is plead is important to avoid summary judgment on governmental immunity grounds.
In recent years, there have been several high-profile stun gun injury lawsuits in the news. Many have ended up in the filing of civil lawsuits and resulted in substantial settlements. The top reported settlements include the payment of $ 5.2 million to the family of a man who suffered permanent brain damage after a police shocking in Sacramento, California.
Police agencies and municipalities vigorously fight these cases and defend them on the basis that the force used was necessary to subdue or apprehend a suspect. In the past, the police version of the events was the only basis for determining the extent of potential liability. This made it easy for the defendants to prevail in these cases due to the lack of independent evidence.
However, in more recent years police body cam videos and onlooker videos have provided compelling evidence of the unlawful use of force by police with stun guns. Many videos show that suspects who are complicit with police demands were still being shocked for no legitimate reason. As a result, these cases have become harder to defend and much better for plaintiffs.
Lawyers investigating these cases for clients should immediately request all police body cam video and dash cam video through a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request. It is essential to obtain this video in order to preserve this valuable evidence for a civil lawsuit. Quite often, the police agency’s own video is what propels a civil settlement later down the line.