The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that a company which manufactures electronic-control devices, or “tasers,” did not know, when the product was made and distributed, that repeated exposure could lead to fatal levels of metabolic acidosis and thus, under California law, had no duty to warn about this risk. Rosa v. TASER Int’l, Inc., No. 09-17792 (9th Cir., decided July 10, 2012). So ruling, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
The lawsuit was filed by the surviving family members of a man killed during a police confrontation that resulted in officers repeatedly deploying their tasers in an effort to incapacitate him. According to the court, his death was “subsequently linked to metabolic acidosis, a condition under which lactic acid—a byproduct of physical exertion—accumulates more quickly than the body can dispose of it, causing the pH in the body to decrease. The condition makes sudden cardiac arrest more likely.”
California law places a duty on manufacturers to warn of a particular risk if it is “known or knowable in light of the generally recognized and prevailing best scientific and medical knowledge available at the time of manufacture and distribution.” The plaintiffs relied on four peer-reviewed scientific studies published before the tasers were made in December 2003. Finding that none of the articles specifically linked the use of electronic-control devices to acidosis and the risk of ventricular fibrillation, the court ruled that the plaintiffs failed to “establish a triable issue of fact that the risk of metabolic acidosis was knowable at the time of distribution.”