Jury: maker should pay $1.5 million for selling standard tablesaw design

by Walter Olson on March 19, 2010

A Boston jury has awarded $1.5 million to a man whose fingers were injured by a tablesaw on the theory that it was defective for the saw to lack “flesh-detection” technology. According to the lawsuit, the inventor of the technology offered to sell it to tool companies a decade ago, but negotiations broke down and none made a deal; the inventor proceeded to launch his own line of saws, SawStop, incorporating the technology. “[Carlos] Osorio’s case is one of more than 50 lawsuits pending throughout the United States against the major table saw manufacturers for failure to adopt the technology.” [Boston Globe, Fine Woodworking] SawStop bills itself on one customer testimonial at its website as the “Rolls-Royce of table saws”, and appears to sell its saw at a premium of hundreds of dollars over ordinary table saws widely available at prices below $500. A commenter in the very active thread at Wood Magazine estimates the premium at $800-$1,000, and also lists some other reasons why many buyers might not welcome the jury’s edict.

More: commenter Dennis N. says the safety technology “stops the blade by driving an aluminum stop block up into the teeth, jamming it. The blade and the cartridge are ruined in the process, requiring about $175 to replace the pair, depending on the price of your blade. Not bad to save a finger, but the thing does have a significant false alarm rate. Wet wood or a wet pocket in dry wood can set off the brake, costing you some big bucks. … It’s not at the top of my list for tools. I’d rather get a higher quality saw.” Yet more: Rusty Shackleford, LegalMatch. More/update: Jul. 8.

{ 9 comments }

1 nevins 03.19.10 at 6:28 am

It is no longer an issue of whether saw manufacturers have this available, the customer’s have spoken. The plaintiff had every opportunity to buy the saw with the technology he desired, but he chose instead to pocket the dollars instead. No one put a gun to his head and made him buy the saw he chose.

” The safety feature was pitched to major saw manufacturers by Gass, but according to SawStop, licensing negotiations broke down and no agreements were reached.” So perhaps another theory is that the inventor of this device is also liable on the theory of greed. The negotiations could only have broken down if Mr. Gass was asking too high a licensing price for his already intrinsically expensive technology. Let’s make the inventors of new technology liable too for their failure to give away their labors for free.

2 Guy from LA (The State) 03.19.10 at 11:08 am

Woodworking is a hobby of mine. I bought a contractor saw last year for around $800. A similar SawStop saw is $1,600. For that money, I could get a saw with capabilities and features most hobbyist dream about. It would be comparable to making everyone buy a car that every safety feature ever invented regardless of cost. It would make the car much safer, but who could afford one?

(On a side note, the technology is very impressive. As the blade rips through a one inch thick piece of wood, how on earth does the saw know the tip of the blade just touched my, in comparison to the wood, extremely soft skin? Seriously, in test it will only nick a hot dog used to simulate a finger.)

3 Dennis N 03.19.10 at 12:03 pm

The Saw Stop technology relies on measuring tiny electrical currents. Your finger is more conductive than a 2×4. It stops the blade by driving an aluminum stop block up into the teeth, jamming it. The blade and the cartridge are ruined in the process, requiring about $175 to replace the pair, depending on the price of your blade. Not bad to save a finger, but the thing does have a significant false alarm rate. Wet wood or a wet pocket in dry wood can set off the brake, costing you some big bucks.

Needless to say, if you don’t have a spare cartridge and a spare blade in the drawer, you’re also unable to work.

It’s not at the top of my list for tools. I’d rather get a higher quality saw.

4 Guy from LA (The State) 03.19.10 at 1:29 pm

Dennis-Thanks for the education. I saw the price on them, knew they were WAY beyond my budget, and stopped reading. I have seen the videos on some of the woodworking websites. And I agree with you-I’d rather get the higher quality saw. For the same price I could get one with twice the HP and a huge table. I’m going that route.

5 Bob Lipton 03.19.10 at 2:00 pm

And a million and a half.

Bob

6 John Rohan 03.19.10 at 6:14 pm

I’m sure the sawstop technology will eventually be mandated by law. Then comes the good part: when it fails (as does every safety technology at some point), the manufacturers will be sued again.

7 William Nuesslein 03.21.10 at 7:30 am

Mayor Koch is trying to remedy the dysfunction of my New York State Government. Massachusetts may be worse.

8 Mike Suttles 03.22.10 at 12:53 pm

Mandatory safety classes would do more good than this device. Maybe even a visit from a cop, like when you shoot yourself in the foot. I can’t believe the stupid things people will do around dangerous equipment, and when they get hurt, it’s always the fault of either the manufacturer or the dealer.

9 gitarcarver 03.31.10 at 1:01 pm

I know this is a late update, but I believe it is worthy.

The Popular Woodworking blog ( http://blogs.popularwoodworking.com/editorsblog/Court+Documents+Osorio+Wasnt+Using+The+Guard+Or+Rip+Fence.aspx ) has more on this case from the court documents. Quoting the blog entry:
At the time of the accident, he was trying to make a rip cut on a 2′-long, 2-1/2″-wide by 3/4″-thick piece of oak flooring, according to court records. He was attempting to cut the board “freehand” without the rip fence, according to the documents. Osorio intended to make a cut in a straight line all the way through the board. He had cut only a small portion of the workpiece when it got stuck at the blade. Osorio immediately experienced chattering and felt vibration in the workpiece. He stopped cutting and cleaned the tabletop. He then attempted to make the same cut again but the chattering continued, and he decided to push the board harder. His left hand then slipped into the spinning saw blade, according to court documents.
……
The saw blade height above the tabletop was set to approximately 3″ – at or near the maximum elevation, and the guarding system was not installed on the saw during the operation, documents state. The table saw was on the floor, Osorio was kneeling on one leg in front of the table saw, and his body was just to the left of the saw blade, according to a motion filed by Osorio’s lawyers.
……
During his deposition, the attorney for One World Technologies asked Osorio, “…Before you started this cut, did you take the rip fence off?” To which Osorio replied through an interpreter, “Yes, I took that piece off, because we didn’t use that piece only, I only use it when I have to make a straight cut.”

Osorio tried to rip 1/2″ off the board with the blade set at a slight angle. He was into the cut just past the teeth of the blade when his hand slipped forward into the blade, according to the deposition.

Osorio’s left hand was injured – his small and ring finger were completely severed, and his middle and index fingers were severely lacerated, including damage to nerves, blood vessels and tendons. His fingers were surgically repaired and reattached, but he continues to suffer from lack of motion, numbness and pain in his left hand, according to court records.

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