In short, it depends. Stun guns and taser guns are both electrical weapons that are often utilized by law enforcement officers with the intention of employing non-deadly force to effectively stop a threat. Both devices are typically employed in order to detain a person who is resisting arrest or stop an individual who is in the commission of a criminal offense.
Although the design of tasers and stun guns is for non-deadly force, both devices are commonly misused by law enforcement and often result in injuries or even death to the person they are utilized on. As such, an individual who was shocked by tasers while in police custody may be eligible to sue to recover for their injuries through an excessive force or deadly force lawsuit against the officer that harmed them and any other responsible parties.
Depending on the nature of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff (i.e., the party that was allegedly harmed by the use of the taser or stun gun), many different parties may be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Parties that may be sued by a plaintiff harmed by a taser or stun gun may include:
- The individual officer that deployed the device;
- Any superior officer that authorized the use of the device or ordered another to deploy the device;
- The police department;
- The county or state;
- In some cases, the designer, manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer of the taser or stun gun may also be held responsible if the device is defective.
- It is important to note that tasers and stun guns are to be designed and manufactured without defects, as well as include proper warning labels. Failure to do so may result in the manufacturer being liable for resulting injuries.
As can be seen, victims of excessive force related to taser and stun guns may sue the individual police officers involved in their case. They can also sue the supervisor of those officers involved and the government that has employed and is responsible for regulating them. In misconduct claims, it is most common for the individual police officers themselves to be sued. Generally, this is because governmental immunity plays a large role when suing the offending municipality.
Governmental immunity involves legal policies that protect the government and governmental agencies from being sued in most cases. These legal protections are meant to make it easier for governments to make decisions due to being free from interference from civil lawsuits made by the general public that they serve.
Because of how difficult the governmental immunity doctrine makes suing a municipality, suing a police officer supervisor is generally only feasible if they were directly involved with the incident in question. For instance, if the supervisor was on scene and ordered another officer to employ their taser or stun gun, then they may be held liable for the misuse of the device. However, in general, courts will not find a supervisor vicariously liable or responsible for the actions of another person, such as a person they hired.
In an excessive force lawsuit, the victim must prove that the amount of force used against them was absolutely unnecessary and that the police officer could have come to the same result without as much force as was used. For example, an individual may have already been detained or cuffed, and then the taser or stun gun was used on them. In that case, they may have a successful claim for excessive force.
In recent years, plaintiffs have become more successful in demonstrating excessive force by requesting copies of police body cams that have become mandatory for police to wear in many jurisdictions. There have been many stun gun and taser lawsuits where a plaintiff was complying with police demands and still had an electrical device employed on them. In those cases, with the assistance of the police body cam evidence and other witness recordings or testimony, the plaintiff is able to overcome the burden of proof and win their lawsuit.
If a plaintiff’s excessive force or police misconduct claim is successful, the court will typically award the following damages:
- Civil Rights Damages: These damages are remedies for the violation of an individual’s civil rights, as violated by the police officer(s) in question;
- Actual Damages: These are a plaintiff’s quantifiable damages, such as their lost wages and hospital and medical expenses related to the use of the taser or stun gun;
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are damages that may be awarded in addition to a plaintiff’s actual damages and are intended to punish the defendant(s).