Taser International, the Scottsdale-based stun gun maker, said Friday it has filed a libel lawsuit against USA Today and The Arizona Republic publisher Gannett Co. for an article that Taser said misled readers about the safety of its products.
The article, which appeared in USA Today on June 3, reported the electrical output of the stun gun is more than 100 times that of an electric chair, when in fact the average electrical current of Taser guns is 1,000 times less than an electric chair, Taser said.
The Republic did not publish the June 3 story, but the lawsuit cites "numerous articles . . . inaccurately and unfairly impugning the safety" of Taser devices in Gannett papers, including the Republic.
The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Tara Connell, vice president of corporate communications for Gannett in McLean, Va., said Friday she and the publisher’s law firm has not yet received the lawsuit.
"We’re not responding until we see it," said Connell, who referred local inquiries to The Arizona Republic.
Randy Lovely, managing editor of The Arizona Republic, did not return a call.
The USA Today article not only misrepresented the electrical output of its stun guns but compounded the numerical error by printing photographs comparing them to electric chairs, lightning and electric train tracks, according to Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International.
The USA Today article reported the electric output of Taser’s X26 stun gun as 2,100 to 3,600 amperes, but the actual current is 0.0021 to 0.0036 amperes, or 1 million amperes less than what was in the story, Tuttle said.
The suit said Gannett printed a correction in the June 6 edition of USA Today but continued to carry the "false, misleading and malicious story" on its Web site until Wednesday.
A news release issued Friday by Taser, which has been under scrutiny from many sources over the safety of its devices, said the lawsuit cites Gannett for "libel, false light invasion of privacy, injurious falsehood and tortious interference with business relations."
It also contends the defendants "engaged in the ongoing publications of misleading articles related to the safety of Taser products, resulting in substantial economic damages to Taser International, its customers and its shareholders."
More than $1 billion of shareholder value has been erased "over the course of this biased campaign," said Rick Smith, chief executive of Taser International.
Taser International’s sales dropped 22 percent to $10.2 million in the first quarter of 2005 from $13.1 million in the same quarter last year, according to the company’s report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Taser International shares have dropped 68 percent so far this year.
The company, which distributes stun guns nationally and internationally, said its earnings for the quarter ended March 31 were $168,000 compared with $3.6 million the same period the previous year.
Taser shares closed at $10.10 on the Nasdaq stock market Friday, up 6 cents from its previous close.