Product Liability

by Steve on March 17, 2010

A Boston jury has awarded $1.5 million to a Malden man who injured his fingers on a saw while installing oak wood flooring several years ago in a first of its kind case that claimed the standard design of American table saws is defective. Carlos Osorio accused One World Technologies Inc., maker of Ryobi saws, of negligence for failing to include a flesh detection technology that would prevent most serious injuries, according to a copy of the complaint filed in 2006 in US District Court in Boston.

Now before you laugh, this technology does exist and was offered to the major saw manufacturers by the developer. They turned him down so he went on to produce his own line of table saws under the brand SawStop. It uses a computer chip to monitor moisture content at the blade. If it detects a certain moisture threshold the chip fires an aluminum brake into the blade. The brake and blade have to be replaced but your finger will only have a slight nick, no stitches necessary. (There is a disable switch to allow for cutting treated or green boards.) This new technology has taken a significant chunk (pun intended) of the market share for table saws. The bottom-of-the-line contractor saw goes for $1,600 and the industrial cabinet saw for $3,500. The Ryobi model involved in the lawsuit sells for under $500. It’s easy to see the economics involved: you can pay the $1,100 premium for peace of mind or pocket the difference and be vigilant. Hopefully you will still be able to count to ten with your shoes on when you sell all your equipment.

Is One World Technologies negligent here or did the consumer make a conscious decision not to purchase a more expensive saw that would have saved his fingers? I made the same choice when SawStop first entered the market. I own a Jet table saw that I’ve had for about 8 years now. It still works fine, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, and if I’m not careful it will amputate in a second. Last year a friend was getting into woodworking and he asked if I was interested in selling my saw and upgrading. I looked at the cabinet saw and thought long and hard about upgrading to get the safety of the SawStop but the economy was turning and I couldn’t manage the $1,200 or so out-of-pocket cost to do the swap.

Saws are inherently dangerous. Especially when doing repetitive cuts where it’s easy for the operator’s mind to wander. Mr. Osorio could have purchased a SawStop saw if he felt the need for the extra protection provided but he elected to purchase the Ryobi, a decision no doubt motivated by price. The irony here is that had the Ryobi saw contained the technology and been price accordingly, Osorio would have undoubtedly purchased another brand based on price. The Boston jury made a bad decision in my opinion and decided that Osorio was not personally responsible for his own choice and behavior. A trend I’m seeing far too often these days.

{ 1 comment }

J. Carmichael March 17, 2010 at 16:57

I cannot agree with you more! I’ve got $20.00 that says the other saw manufacturers (Dewalt, Delta, Ryobi) all turned down the technology of “SawStop” when they were originally pitched on the opportunity because their lawyers felt that they would be susceptible to a liability suit if the technology failed.

You can’t win in this world of “I can’t be held responsible for my actions”!


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