Speculation Not Enough to Find Electrical Shock from Taser as the Cause-In-Fact for a Subsequent Heart Attack In Shreveport Lawsuit

electric-shock-hazard-1310056-1024x683On the afternoon of April 13, 2011, Officer J.M. Bassett of the Shreveport Police Department heard loud music coming from a motorcycle parked at 251 E. 72nd in Shreveport Louisiana. When Officer Bassett attempted to make contact with the man, Jessie Scott, Scott became hostile. As the situation escalated, Officer Bassett employed his Taser stun gun and handcuffed Mr. Scott, placing him into custody and transporting Mr. Scott to the police station. At the station, Mr. Scott complained of chest pain and Mr. Scott was taken to the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, where it was determined that Mr. Scott was having a heart attack.

Mr. Scott and his wife later filed a lawsuit against the City of Shreveport for the tasing and subsequent heart attack which they alleged was directly caused by the tasing event.  After receiving the lawsuit the City of Shreveport filed a motion for summary judgment in which they argued the Scotts failed to produce any medical evidence showing a causal link between Mr. Scott being tased and his heart attack later that day.  The district court agreed with the City of Shreveport and dismissed the Scott’s case.  They then appealed that ruling to the Second Circuit Appellate Court of Louisiana.

The Appellate Court agreed with the District Court of Caddo that summary judgment in favor of  the City dismissing the allegations brought by the Scotts was correct. Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact for all or part of the relief sought by a litigant. See Samaha v. Rau, 2007-1726 (La. 02/26/08), 977 So. 2d 880. Here, the Scotts are required to provide proof that there is a causal link between the tasing and Mr. Scott’s heart attack, but the Scotts failed to produce such evidence.

In order to prevail in a negligence action, the Scotts were required to show that (1) the conduct in question was a cause-in-fact of the resultant harm; (2) the defendant owed a duty to plaintiff; (3) the duty owed was breached; and (4) the risk or harm caused was within the scope of the breached duty.  Mart v. Hill, 505 So. 2d 1120 (La. 1987);  LUBA Cas. Ins. Co. v. Hygenic Corp., 47,395 (La. App. 2d Cir. 09/20/12), 131 So. 3d 890, 893.

The Scotts failed to show that the conduct in question, the tasing, was a cause-in-fact of the harm, Mr. Scott’s heart attack. But-for Officer Bassett using his taser, would have Mr. Scott suffered a heart attack? This is a high bar to cross that requires evidence of the relationship between tasing and heart attacks. The possibility of the required relationship between conduct and harm is not enough to create a genuine issue of material act, there must be evidence of the relationship.

Here, the cardiologist who performed a heart catheterization on Mr. Scott, stated that it is not clear whether an electric shock can create a heart attack. The cardiologist stated that an electrical shock, in theory, could create arrhythmias, where the heart suddenly starts beating very fast or slowly, but never stated that Mr. Scott himself had experienced an arrhythmia as a result of being tased.

Mr. Scott’s only evidence in regards to electric shocks creating a heart attack was a self-serving claim that a doctor told Mr. Scott that the tasing caused the heart attack and a 2012 article on a study by an Indiana University cardiologist suggesting that tasing can trigger heart trouble.

As it stood, Mr. Scott’s only evidence was mere speculation, which is not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Slade v. State ex rel. Univ. of La. at Monroe, 46,720 (La. App. 2d. Cir. 11/09/11). Therefore, the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the district court was correct in granting a motion for summary judgment for the City of Shreveport in this case.

Additional Sources: JESSIE SCOTT, JR. AND PATRICIA SCOTT VERSUS CITY OF SHREVEPORT

Written By: Gregory Walton

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Negligence: Cause-in-Fact Requirements of a Negligence Lawsuit