(CN) – Taser International had no duty to warn police in 2004 that its stun guns could cause deadly levels of metabolic acidosis, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday, tying up claims related to a California man who died after a drug-fueled tussle with police.
Police officers in Del Rey Oaks, Calif., shot Michael Rosa with a Taser at least 12 times one August night in 2004. Officers had been called out on a noise complaint when they found Rosa acting strangely in a residential neighborhood. Rosa resisted arrest, threatening police by swinging a 2-by-4. Once restrained, Rosa turned blue and struggled to breathe. He died a short time later at the hospital from cardiac arrest.
A medical examiner attributed Rosa’s stopped hear to the “high levels of methamphetamine” found in the blood.
The death certificate listed “Taser application and arrest by police” as a contributing factor, and Rosa’s 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,” according to the court.
In a federal complaint against Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International, Rosa’s family claimed that the company should have warned police about the risks of metabolic acidosis specifically.
But U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose found that the Rosa family had failed to show that Taser should have known about metabolic acidosis risks with the M26 product in late 2003 and 2004.
Rosa’s family pointed to peer-reviewed scholarly articles that addressed “sudden in-custody death syndrome” in relation to acidosis, which can occur after the physical exertion normally involved in resisting arrest. None of the studies mentioned the Taser specifically, according to the court.
A three-judge panel in San Francisco affirmed Tuesday, finding the family’s arguments too broad.
“The Rosas argue essentially that any risk that was discoverable through modern technology, no matter how unsubstantiated, was knowable by Taser,” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote for the court. “We do not interpret the standard so broadly.”
The articles cited by the Rosas did not establish a connection between the Taser and acidosis, the appellate panel added. Claims that Taser had essentially admitted the connection when it warned law enforcement officers in 2009 “to pay special attention to ‘physiologically or metabolically compromised’ suspects” also fell flat.
Taser attorney John Maley told Courthouse News that upholding the Rosas’ claims would have “imposed on manufacturers of all types really an impossible burden.”
“You’d have to warn for everything that might cause harm,” said Maley, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis.
Taser’s warning labels are always evolving based on the latest scientific research, some of which the company does itself, Maley added.
He did not know if Taser International was currently studying its products’ alleged influence on metabolic acidosis.
John Burton, the family’s Pasadena-based attorney, did not immediately return a request for comment.