For the first time ever, public officials in Canada have concluded that a TASER brand Electronic Control Device (“ECD”) was the direct cause of a death. Aron Firman, a a-year old schizophrenic who was living in a home for mentally ill patients was subjected to an ECD discharge on June 24 when Provincial Police Officers in Collingwood, Ontario, responded to an assault complaint. Two OPP officers were dispatched to a Blue Mountain residence where Firman lived. Firman was found sitting in a chair outside the residence, but when police moved in to arrest him, he became agitated. He then got up and allegedly moved towards one of the officers. The officer then discharged his TASER ECD. Firman took a few additional steps before falling to the ground and lapsing into unconsciousness.
Ian Scott, director of a Special Investigations Unit that looked into the death of Firman concluded that “in this incident, the TASER’s deployment in my view caused [Aron] Firman’s death.” Scott’s report follows a medical examiner’s findings indicating that Firman died from “cardiac arrhythmia precipitated by electronic control device deployment in an agitated man.”
For those of us currently litigating wrongful death/products liability cases against TASER, Intl., this decision is significant because it marks the first time that a governmental entity has concluded that a TASER ECD directly caused a death. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has been completely silent on this subject. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency in the U.S. tasked with overseeing TASER products has never independently tested ECDs to determine their safety or identify risks associated with their use. Instead, the CPSC has essentially abrogated its responsibility to protect the public from unsafe products by accepting TASER’s own representations concerning the safety of its ECD’s. As a consequence of this lack of oversight, lawsuits are the only means to expose the safety risks of these devices.
This decision is notable for another reason. It lends credence to the argument that TASER ECDs should be classified as lethal weapons. Since their first production, TASER, Intl., has referred to their ECDs as non-lethal devices, adopting the U.S. Department of Defense definition of “non-lethal weapon”, which states that such weapons are designed to minimize fatalities and injury, but does not require such weapons to have zero probability of producing fatalities.
With the toll from TASER-associated deaths steadily climbing in the U.S. and abroad, perhaps it is now time to finally reconsider the non-lethal classification and force TASER Intl., to properly label TASER ECDs as lethal weapons capable of causing death under certain circumstances.
TASER + Injury + ECD