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April 17, 2014

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Family sues Taser over death of Las Vegas physician

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Taser International Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., was sued Wednesday over the 2008 death of a Las Vegas physician who died after a Nevada Highway Patrol officer used a Taser to subdue him.

The family of Ryan Rich filed suit in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas alleging negligence and other claims.

Rich, 33, a physician and emergency room resident at Spring Valley Hospital, suffered a seizure while driving to work on Interstate 15 on Jan. 4, 2008, the lawsuit says.

The seizure left him "dazed, confused and disoriented" and as he was unable to control his vehicle he was involved in several minor traffic accidents, the lawsuit says.

After Rich stopped, he was approached by NHP trooper Loren Lazoff, who found Rich to be uncooperative.

In an effort to subdue and arrest Rich, Lazoff discharged his Taser weapon five times into Rich, three times subjecting Rich to 50,000 volts for five-second cycles and twice using the weapon in "stun mode," the lawsuit says.

Rich turned blue at the scene and was taken to Spring Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the suit says.

Lazoff's actions were later found to be justified by a Clark County Coroner's Inquest.

Taser is accused in the lawsuit of falsely representing to the NHP that its 26-watt Tasers are not lethal, cannot cause cardiac arrest and cannot cause "ventricular fibrillation," or an abnormal heart rhythm.

The suit claims Taser failed to disclose that the risk of ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest is significantly increased by discharging the device into the chest near the heart, especially among thin people like Rich; and that the company failed to warn the Highway Patrol that police vehicles should carry defibrillators to minimize the risk of brain damage or death in the event a suspect enters into cardiac arrest after being subjected to a Taser shock.

Taser also failed to warn that multiple shocks inflicted on a suspect increase the risk of ventricular fibrillation, cardiac arrest and death, the suit charges.

"The Nevada Highway Patrol and the officer at the scene was unaware and had been tricked and deceived that his use of the (Taser) could not cause cardiac arrest by the misrepresentations, concealments of material fact and failures to warn by defendant Taser," charges the suit, which seeks unspecified damages.

A request for comment on the allegations was placed with Taser.

This week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco set down strict guidelines for when police officers may use Tasers. Nevada is among the states in the 9th Circuit.

The Associated Press reported that the court found a Coronado, Calif., police officer used excessive force when he used his Taser on an unarmed, nonviolent suspect. The unanimous three-judge panel upheld a trial court's decision allowing the suspect, Carl Bryan, to pursue his lawsuit against the city, police department and officer.

The appeals court said police should use Tasers only in threatening situations because they inflict more pain than other so-called nonlethal weapons at officers' disposal, AP reported.

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