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Table Saw Products Liability: Profits Over Amputations

It sometimes appears that a products liability issue is never truly resolved. Sometimes, sadly, an industry just can’t stop its bad behavior. Case in point? Way back in October of 2001, The Cartwright Law Firm successfully brought suit on behalf of a client whose hand was severed by an unguarded power saw made by Sears Roebuck Company. Though many other such cases had been tried before, this was one of the first successful cases brought to trial for the lack of a simple blade guard, an obvious safety feature for table saws, a lack that had been responsible for many similar amputations and disfigurements for decades. Of particular help in our case was information that the makers of such saws had actually developed appropriate guards years before but decided against offering them as standard equipment on their products.

Now, the same industry is again refusing to add new proven technology to the same set of products that is even better at averting disastrous injuries. A device invented by a company called Saw Stop, which actually senses human skin and flesh and stops and lowers the blades of these saws in an instant, thereby preventing serious injuries, is being ignored by the saw manufacturing industry. While Saw Stop has gone on to build and market their own saws in response to this blanket refusal to adopt safer standards by the industry, the amputations and serious injuries continue to occur.

Even more shocking, the industry is continuing to do exactly what they have done for the past 40 years, and what they were punished for ten years ago. They are putting profits over safety. How?

First, they do not want to use and accept a new technology which might be admissible at trial as evidence of a safe design alternative to their current design. This is the same thing that happened in our case a decade ago. The jury awarded nearly $5,000,000, $3.2 million of which was punitive damages for failure to place a more effective guard on the saw; the same reason they are not using this new technology now. The required more effective guard was not nearly as effective as the even newer Saw Stop technology, but far better than no guard at all. The CPSC, (Consumer Product Safety Commission) who took note of our verdict, investigated and recalled three million saws and demanded that the manufacturers put a more effective guard on them.

Secondly, they do not want to implement this new technology unless the whole industry does, as that would make their device a little more expensive than their competitors. They are afraid of losing market share! In other words, they are again putting profits over safety.

Table saw accidents are painful, life-changing and expensive. Each year, more than 67,000 U.S. workers and hobbyists suffer blade contact injuries, according to estimates compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, with more than 33,000 injuries treated in emergency rooms and 4,000 amputations. A whopping 30.9% of these injuries occurred while a blade guard was in use. They estimated the cost for all such injuries at roughly $2.36 billion per year. The Power Tool Institute, who represents the various manufacturers of the table saws, has worked actively to oppose any rule-making or other legislative remedies, and managed to tie up the process for many years. In the meantime, people keep losing fingers and hands despite there being a proven solution to remedy this unacceptable situation.

We at The Cartwright Law Firm are not surprised about the industry’s response, given how many years this problem has existed, and the knowledge manufacturers have about the problem. They are taking the same approach that tobacco companies have taken for decades when faced with complaints, lawsuits, and government attempts to rein-in their industry. Some corporations just don’t really care about their customers after the sale is completed. Until they do, The Cartwright Law Firm will be here to defend your rights against their willful negligence.

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