The Unreasonably Dangerous TASER

Posted On August 26 2010 | Firm News,Personal Injury

TASER International argues that its weapon has been thoroughly tested and proven to be safe. Dr. David Rosenbaum, the Director of Heart & Vascular Research Center at Case Western Reserve University, specifically refutes these assertions in many ways. The most important of which is probably the evidence that the weapon can capture and stimulate the heart enough to cause fibrillation.

Dr. Rosenbaum says that there is “very reasonable evidence from the scientific and medical literature that states that TASERs applied to the body surface can stimulate the heart muscle, can electrically stimulate the heart muscle. It can stimulate the heart muscle in a rapid fashion, and it can stimulate the heart muscle in a fashion that is rapid enough to induce an arrhythmia, ventricular fibrillation.” Dr. Rosenbaum references a study in “The Journal of Cardiovascular Physiology” by Leslie Saxon which shows evidence of local capture of the heart muscle in humans. Rosenbaum explains that in the Saxon study they were able to record this capture because the patient happened to have a pacemaker leads in the heart that detected local myocardial capture. Dr. Rosenbaum also referenced a review by Paul Dorian, “where they clearly emphasized and pointed out the… fact that the TASER energy… can clearly stimulate the heart and induce fibrillation based on the Saxon report showing local capture in a human subject very well documented.”

Dr. Rosenbaum also makes a very strong case that the testing of the TASER that has been done has not adequately established that the weapon is safe for its intended use. Dr. Rosenbaum explains the lack of adequate testing done on the TASER as follows:

I think the — the fact that we don’t have strong, adequate clinical data to establish the safety of TASERs under these kinds of environments, these kinds of situations leads you to just be uncertain as — what that really tells you is that we haven’t ruled in the fact that TASERs are safe under these circumstances, and we — it really provides us no information as to whether they’re dangerous. We just don’t have that information available from the standpoint of well-controlled, properly-conducted clinical trials. So what we have, when you don’t have well-controlled, properly-conducted clinical trials, what you have in medicine is you go into best available data, which is pre-clinical studies and good animal experiments, sometimes computer simulations, and sometimes limited clinical studies that are available. And so, you know, if this were a medical device, let’s say, which we use — I’m an electrophysiologist, [we] use defibrillators and all kinds of medical devices, there’s a standard of safety that has to be surpassed before we can deploy a device on the patient, and that standard actually undergoes much more rigorous clinical testing than what I think that I believe the TASER gun has been exposed to, to assure its safety. And where this comes particularly important is that the degree of risk you would accept in a clinical therapy is – has to be weighed relative to its benefit. So if you had a drug that was – had a lot of side effects, was very risky but it treated cancer and was very effective at curing cancer, you may be willing to accept some toxicity. And the problem here in this field is that we don’t – we don’t know what level of safety is acceptable. And it certainly hasn’t been tested for. So, you know, here we have people who are generally young, well individuals, so I think we would want to have a device that has a very high safety profile because… these individuals otherwise are expected to do well. So we just don’t have enough information to know whether the devices are safe or safe enough relative to the value they bring and how they’re deployed.

… when we say what’s the probability of the TASER being implicated, well, since the outcome is death… an acceptable level of risk would be a very low threshold because the outcome is terrible. And – I think the pre-clinical studies that are available so far and the limited human studies suggest that there may be considerable risk under certain situations that we just haven’t fully studied in humans yet.

This may be why TASER has recently issued new warnings for this unreasonably dangerous device.

There is also now evidence that law enforcement persons who use the Taser should be carrying with them, or at least have nearby, a defibrillator. In a recent letter to the New England Journal of Medicine there is documentation of a defibrillator saving the life of a young person who had been shot with the Taser. In this case, defribicardiopulmonary resuscitation was begun within two minutes after the collapse. “After four shocks and the administration of epinephrine, atropine, and lidocaine, a perfusing rhythm was restored.” The incident itself is evidence that the Taser can cause ventricular fibrillation, or in other words, serious injury or death.