Ontario announced last Tuesday that it would permit police officers to carry Taseers. File photo: AFP

iNTERNATIONAL - When an electrical engineer concluded Taser shocks were more dangerous than Taser International contended, the publicly traded company filed suit. And when an Ohio medical examiner attributed deaths partly to its stun guns, she, too, found herself in court.

Those cases represent the flip side of Taser’s strategy of forging deep ties with coroners and other professionals. Not only does the Arizona stun gun manufacturer court allies. It sometimes sues critics.

Such cases have an impact on medical examiners, according to a 2011 survey of 222 medical examiners nationwide. Its conclusions: 14% said they modified diagnostic findings due to the possible threat of litigation from Taser, and 32% said that threat could affect future decisions.

Taser’s lawsuits have “a chilling effect,” said William Oliver, an assistant medical examiner in Knox County, Tennessee, and author of the survey, published in The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. The lawsuits, he said, could be viewed as “an attack on scientific expression.” In a 2007 deposition, Taser chief executive Rick Smith said suppressing science is not the company’s intent. “Taser does not use any of these tactics to intimidate,” Smith said. “We’re challenging the findings. We think they’re wrong. We think leaving those wrong standings risks implications in litigation against us as Taser International, litigation against the police department.”

In 2006, Taser sued Lisa Kohler, an Ohio medical examiner, arguing that she erred in implicating the company’s weapons in three deaths. The company asked the court to change the cause of death rulings and remove any references to Tasers. A judge ruled in the company’s favour, ordering that Kohler remove Taser’s name from three autopsies. 

- REUTERS