New trial ordered over Charlotte teen’s Taser death

mgordon@charlotteobserver.comNovember 22, 2013 

A federal appeals court has thrown out a $6 million award to the family of a Charlotte teenager who died after being shocked with a Taser by police in 2008.

Darryl Wayne Turner, 17, suffered cardiac arrest after being tased for more than 40 seconds during a standoff with police at the north Charlotte grocery store where he worked.

The city of Charlotte, though it admitted no wrongdoing, paid the family $625,000 in 2009. At the time, it was the largest paid police claim in almost a decade.

In July 2011, a federal jury in Charlotte awarded the family a $10 million judgment in its lawsuit against Taser International, which produces the model that was used against the teen. According to the appeals court, the final judgment was $5.5 million.

The family’s attorney, John Burton of Pasadena, Calif., had argued that the company failed to warn or train users not to fire the X26 Taser near a target’s heart. Burton said the company knew of studies that showed the device could contribute to cardiac arrest but failed to issue adequate warnings.

The company’s attorneys tried to convince the jury that Turner had a medical condition that contributed to his death. They also produced a federal study that challenged the notion that a Taser poses more risk when fired close to the heart.

The 2011 award was the largest handed down against Taser International. In the appeal, company attorney Pamela Petersen of Scottsdale, Ariz., argued that U.S. District Judge Bob Conrad of Charlotte erred in not allowing testimony on how Turner contributed to his own death. She also said the jury’s award was extreme.

In a 2-1 ruling Friday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the damages, saying that they were not supported by the evidence in the case. The court ordered a new trial on establishing a new figure. However, the finding of liability against the company was allowed to stand.

“We are very pleased that the 4th Circuit found the damages to be excessive and has remanded for a new trial on that issue,” said Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International.

He said the company is exploring its options, including a possible request to the full 4th Circuit to hear the case.

Despite the loss of millions in monetary damages, Burton called the court’s decision “a major, major victory.”

“This was never about the money,” he said. “This was about the real problem this product poses, so families in the future don’t have to go through what Devoid and Tammy Lou have experienced.

“I still believe the company is in denial about the real risks of its product. But hopefully this will get through to police departments everywhere.”

Burton said he was eager to present more evidence at the new damages trial, which he predicted would take place in Charlotte next year.

“We may do better, we may do worse, but we’ll win,” he said. “We’ve already won. It’s just a question of how much.”

Gordon: 704-358-5095

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