Taser maker settles lawsuit with cop who claimed the weapon was underpowered
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A former Houston police officer has dropped her lawsuit against the company that makes Tasers in exchange for $25,000 — a settlement amount lawyers for both sides agreed was trivial. Axon — the company — said the plaintiff initially demanded a $7.5 million payout.
The lawsuit alleged that the officer was injured during a struggle with a suspect in 2015 because her Taser was ineffective. Her lawyers argued the weapon failed to subdue the suspect because it put out less electrical charge than earlier models.
Axon has fought scores of product liability lawsuits over the years and is generally loath to settle. Moreover, it has an impressive track record of defending itself at trial. From the time the former officer's suit was filed in federal district court in March 2017, the company said the claim was baseless.
This case was unusual, though. Rather than arguing that the Taser's electrical pulses were dangerously powerful, Karen Taylor, the former officer, contended the pulses were dangerously weak.
A recent APM Reports investigation found Houston officers rated their newer Tasers as effective less often than their older ones. Reporters analyzed a database covering more than 4,700 incidents in the city between 2004 and 2017. The "success" rate dropped from 75 percent to 69 percent when the department switched to the newer models. Police departments in Los Angeles and New York saw similar declines in effectiveness when they upgraded their Tasers.
In response to the investigation, Axon questioned the validity of the police department databases and said its testing showed models used in Houston, New York and LA are just as effective as their predecessors. According to the company's marketing materials, the new line of "Smart Tasers" released in 2009 were designed to be safer for suspects, thanks to the lower level of the electrical charge. The company has sold hundreds of thousands of the newer models called the X2 and the X26P.
The settlement came six weeks before the case was scheduled for trial.
"Axon is pleased with the successful resolution of the Taylor case for what can only be characterized as nuisance value," the company said in a written statement to APM Reports. "For Axon, this small settlement saved the company and its shareholders substantial fees and costs associated with a trial."
Taylor's attorney, Andy Vickery called the settlement "absolute peanuts" and said it wouldn't even cover the costs his law firm had racked up litigating the case for 2 1/2 years.
"I was ready, willing and able — and indeed excited — about going to trial," Vickery said, but settled at the direction of his client because she was worried about confronting Axon in court.
Unlike many settlement agreements, Taylor's does not include a confidentiality clause. "Confidentiality this close to trial would have allowed speculation that Axon paid far more than it did," the company explained.
The city of Houston will also get a piece of the settlement, because it joined the lawsuit in an effort to recover the worker's compensation it paid out due to Taylor's injuries.
Taylor no longer works as a police officer. About the settlement, she would only say, "We did what we thought was best, and now we're all moving on."
The APM Reports investigation "When Tasers Fail," published and broadcast in May, also documented 258 cases where police shot and killed people after their Tasers proved ineffective.
Axon faces another lawsuit alleging its "Smart Taser" models weren't powerful enough to protect police. The family of a New Orleans police officer says he was shot and killed in the line of duty after his Taser failed to stop a suspect he was struggling with. The case, filed a year ago, remains in its early stages.
Axon has a monopoly on the U.S. Taser market. Last year it released its latest upgrade — the Taser 7. It delivers the same amount of electricity as the X2 and X26P but in more concentrated and frequent bursts. The company says it will be its most effective Taser.