I came across this case today and thought I would share it with you all, and maybe get some thoughts.
In 2003, a Madera, CA officer–Marcie Noriega–shot and mortally wounded Everardo Torres, a suspect who, after being seized by officers, was attempting to kick out the cop car windows. Noriega reached for her M26 Taser in an attempt to stun Torres, but instead grabbed her Glock and shot Torres once in the chest, killing him. Torres’ family then filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Madera City, which prompted another lawsuit against Taser Internationl (the makers of the M26 Taser).
Taser International was sued for designing the M26 to look too similar to a standard issue weapon (the Glock), and for not training officers to holster the Taser on the opposite hip of the gun holster. Madera City lost the lawsuit, despite these claims.
As someone interested in user-centered design, I decided to explore how Taser International could have won this case, despite Noriega’s partner claiming that she was in fact intending to reach for her M26, that the design of the M26 is explicitly meant to have the look and feel of a Glock, and that Madera officers did not receive training advising them to holster the Taser on the opposite hip.
First of all, the design of the Taser is very similar to the Glock. The M26 has a similar size and weight to the Glock, and both weapons have a laser pointer to help aim. Therefore one of Madera City’s claims against Taser International was that the design of the M26 was negligent. Taser International countered this claim stating that “A product is not negligently designed so long as ‘the manufacturer took reasonable precautions in an attempt to design a safe product or otherwise acted as a reasonably prudent manufacturer would have under the circumstances’” (Torres vs. Taser International).
In fact, it seems as though Taser International had conducted some user research:
Here, the only evidence regarding Taser’s decision-making process on the M26′sdesign is that it developed a variety of different prototypes for the M26, presented these prototypes at “one of the largest training conferences of police . . . officers in the country,” determined that the handgun-shaped design “was significantly better in terms of accuracy” than the other prototypes, and received “overwhelming feedback” from training officers that they preferred the handgun-shaped design to the others (Torres vs. Taser International).
In Human Factors classes I have learned that user preferences are trumped by issues of safety. Designing the M26 to have a similar look, feel, and attribute as a Glock was negligent, in my opinion. I wonder if Taser International conducted any other kinds of rigorous testing that would have made designers realize that the user preference of having a Glock-shaped Taser should not have been considered.
Another claim Madera City made against Taser International, was the lack of training. With training, they claim, Noriega would have been advised by experts to holster her Glock and Taser on opposite hips, potentially reducing the amount of misfires. Noriega however had accidentally drew her Glock instead of her Taser in an incident prior to Torres’ death, brought her worries to her supervisor, who then, perhaps, advised her to holster the Taser on the opposite hip. Because of this, Taser International claims, proper training would have been moot as Noriega was already aware of the solution to her error.
If we, as user-centered design folks, believe that human error is never really human error when design is involved (it’s always design error), can we agree with the verdict of the Madera City vs. Taser International verdict?