Iditarod musher sues knife maker

by Walter Olson on June 8, 2012

Product liability reaches the famed Alaskan dogsled race:

Iditarod mushers are known for missing digits. …

When Mitch Seavey nearly lost his index finger last year in Ophir, however, his Iditarod was over. In a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, the former champion now says the blame lies with the Oregon company that made the knife he sliced his finger with, and Sportsman’s Warehouse, which sold it to him.

[Anchorage Daily News, more]

{ 18 comments }

1 Robert 06.08.12 at 9:47 am

The knife does have a mechanical component which he contents is poorly designed:

The back of the locking blade has a “gut hook,” a small, curved, sharpened blade designed for skinning game animals. The locking release button is in the center of the handle, which allowed the blade to close on Seavey’s fingers while he was using the hook to unbundle a bale of straw, the lawsuit claims.

Still, he was using a knife designed for “skinning game animals” to rip open bales of hay. It’s like using a screwdriver to drive nails. You’re at your own risk.

2 KDP 06.08.12 at 10:19 am

The solution is simple – ban all sharp objects from the Iditarod race course.

And why is it that each time I see the title Iditarod I think it says “Idiot”-rod?

3 Dwight Brown 06.08.12 at 12:39 pm

Is knife! Is not safe!

4 Richard Nieporent 06.08.12 at 1:13 pm

If his lawsuit is successful we going to see a new warning label on all knifes. Caution: The blade on this knife is extremely sharp. Using it to cut any object can result in loss of finger or life. Never use during an Iditarod race!

5 David Smith 06.08.12 at 1:25 pm

Since he evaluated the knife and then approved its purchase for an intended purpose of which he was an acknowledged master :

Shouldn’t HE bear some of the responsibility?

6 Mannie 06.08.12 at 2:27 pm

Defective design? It seems to cut very well!

Does anyone know what model Kershaw it was that Seavey was using? I bet half the people on this board could look at it and argue whether it is a safe design or not. Or as safe a thing as you can design for stabbing and cutting.

The article implies the knife blade closed on his hand while he was using the gut hook end. Whether that happened, or his hand slipped along the open blade, what was he doing with that blade open? That would indicate excessive operator headspace.

There’s nothing wrong with using a gut hook as a line cutter. It’s actually hard to cut yourself with one. That’s why similar knives are used by rescue people. But you don’t want a slip to result in the hand hitting a live blade, or to have the pointy end aimed at your guts.

7 Mannie 06.08.12 at 2:28 pm

Richard Nieporent 06.08.12 at 1:13 pm

If his lawsuit is successful we going to see a new warning label on all knifes. Caution: The blade on this knife is extremely sharp

Some knives do come with a similar warning.

8 Nicholas 06.08.12 at 3:32 pm

I don’t get it. This is overlawyering? If a company sells a product they have to sell a safe product, on the sliding scale of safety for each product. If this knife was poorly designed, then liability attaches to the parties profiting from its sale. The plaintiff will have to demonstrate his case, and the manufacturer will defend itself.

What’s the problem? That’s how torts are supposed to work.

9 MF 06.08.12 at 6:23 pm

Nicholas, I think the point is that most all readers of Overlawyered would believe that this is a case of a ridiculous claim that has no business even getting to a jury to decide. This is clearly a case where ‘loser pays’ would keep this case from ever getting to a courtroom. A lawyer is simply casting out a wild line in the hope of catching a sucker.

10 ras 06.08.12 at 10:41 pm

It’s up to the workman to evaluate his own tools and to use the right one for the job. This guy didn’t; he used the wrong kind of knife in the wrong way.

Perhaps tool ownership should be licensed. We could have professional authorizers and standardized tests and penalties for no-compliance and everything, That way, no one would ever again try to butter their bread with a poorly-designed chainsaw because of some evil (foreign, easily sued) supplier.

11 Nicholas 06.09.12 at 2:07 pm

MF, ras,

Perhaps, but it all lies with whether or not the product was designed negligently, right? Nothing in this story says that it wasn’t. The details given strongly suggest that the knife had a safety design flaw. When that is the case, then a profitting entity has a duty of care.

Sure, I think loser pays would be reasonable reform.

12 MF 06.09.12 at 5:20 pm

Nicholas, I think you read a different article than I did. I saw a plaintiff’s attorney make claims that he would have to make in order to win his case, but I read nothing that actually leads me to believe those claims. I certainly feel bad that Mr. Seavey suffered the injury, but I don’t believe the knife manufacturer, and certainly not the seller, did anything wrong. The seller??? Come on!

13 gitarcarver 06.09.12 at 11:41 pm

For anyone who wishes to see it, here is a video of Mitch Seavey, the injury, the actual knife, and what he says what happened.

http://vimeo.com/42659516

14 Swift 06.10.12 at 7:12 am

Nicholas: when reading the comments here, you have to realize that you’ve left regular earth and have entered into the through the looking glass world of libertarian free market nirvana where the heisenberg reflexivity of torts principle applies: the mere act of observing something on overlawyered means that it’s an example of a ridiculous lawsuit because otherwise why would it be on overlawyered? furthermore, clearly it does not belong in a court, because if so many commenters here can make such definite conclusions based on little information, then certainly why should a judge or jury waste its time based on more information? but don’t worry–if you argue too much here, you’ll be sure to get one of two standard responses here. One is “At overlawyered, we don’t comment on individual cases–we just put them out there (and heavily imply things about them).” The other is “This is a forum for like minded people — if you don’t like it, make your own forum.” I’m no fan of lawywers or our overlawyered system, but these actual responses which I have received from this forum are worse.

ras: is it up for me too to determine if my supermarket meat is contaminated with salmonella? after all, i have decades of experience eating things.

15 Mannie 06.10.12 at 10:59 am

The knife in the video was a lockback folder with a gut hook at the back of the blade. I’ve used folding knives of all sorts, including lockbacks for some sixty years. I’ve never had a lockback close on my hand.

I note a few points. The gut hook is on the back of the blade, a common feature. To use the gut gook, the blade is loaded “the wrong way,” against the lock. If the lock fails, the blade will tend to close, and your fingers are in the way of the closing blade.

Several things will affect the locking mechanism. The angles of the locking recess and lockback hooks need to be nearly square. A slight undercut will make the lock more secure, but harder to unlock. Dirt or pocket lint in the recess will inhibit locking. Wear will make the hookup less secure. The lockback release should be slightly recessed, but that makes it more cumbersome to operate, particularly with gloves on.

Using a gut hook as a line cutter is a fairly common action. This is the first time I’ve heard it considered dangerous.

Playing with the cheap lockback that I use for a letter opener, I found it surprisingly easy to inadvertently trip the release when holding the knife like Seavey showed on the vid.

This is why I prefer a fixed blade knife. In a folder, I prefer one with a separate hook blade.

I think Seavey has a colorable case.

16 E-Bell 06.11.12 at 8:12 am

MF: This is clearly a case where ‘loser pays’ would keep this case from ever getting to a courtroom.

Interestingly enough, Alaska is the only state with a semblance of a loser-pays law.

17 DensityDuck 06.11.12 at 12:52 pm

Hm. From looking at the video, it seems what happened is he was using the gut-hook to cut a line, and in doing so pushed on the back of the blade in such a way as to cause the knife to fold closed. His grip on the knife had pushed the button that disengaged the lock release He was holding his finger over the blade slot, and the knife blade cut the finger.

The problem is that the knife behaved as it was designed to do. Pushing on the back of the blade when the lock release button is pressed is supposed to make the knife close. And this isn’t some non-obvious or non-intuitive piece of operation. This is “if you put the car in reverse and take your foot off the brake it will move backward, so make sure nobody’s behind you.” This is “if you fold the safety guard out of the way and shove a board into the saw with your bare hands, you might lose fingers”.

Yeah, this really sucks and it’s not fun, but, well…pay attention next time.

18 antiredistributionist 06.11.12 at 3:19 pm

If a gut hook is used for gutting purposes, is the knife held so the hook is facing away from the user? If so, does using the hook in the manner described increase (a) the likelihood of the lock being released and (b) the likelihood of the user being cut by his own knife? Is this a foreseeable (mis)use of the knife?

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