Table Saw Accidents and Injuries
According to data compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”), more than 40,000 Americans are injured in table saw accidents each year, at a cost of some $2.36 billion annually. Approximately 4,000 finger amputations occur annually because of table saws.
A new patented technology known as “SawStop” could eliminate virtually all power saw injuries, but the major power tool manufacturers, such as Ryobi, Delta, Black & Decker and Craftsman, have refused to license the SawStop technology, despite the fact that adding such technology would cost less than $100 a saw.
SawStop technology has been available since 1999. That year, Steve Gass, a patent attorney and amateur woodworker (who also happens to hold a PhD in physics from UC Berkeley), developed a SawStop prototype three weeks after brainstorming a revolutionary new way to stop a spinning saw blade the moment that the blade comes in contact with human flesh.
The principle behind SawStop is as old as those old-fashioned “touch lamps” that would turn off and on when you touched their base. Touch lamps work because of a tiny electrical field that is propagated though the base of the lamp. When an electrical conductor such as human flesh (which is mainly water, a good electrical conductor) comes in contact with the electrical field at the base of the lamp, the conductive surface interrupts the electrical field in the lamp’s base and turns the light off or on.
SawStop works in basically the same way: the SawStop saw blade carries an imperceptible electrical charge and, when the electrically-charged saw blade comes into contact with an electrical conductor (such as a human finger tip), a state-of-the-art braking mechanism is triggered, which stops the saw blade from spinning within milliseconds.
Gass’ invention was so innovative that he secured more than 50 patents for it. Gass and a few friends debuted SawStop in August 2000 at the International Woodworking Machinery and Furniture Supply Fair, where it created a sensation. Major power tool manufacturers expressed interest in the SawStop technology but declined a patent licensing deal that would have enabled them to sell their saws equipped with SawStop. Many have speculated that power saw manufacturers opted not to license SawStop technology after concluding that it would be cheaper to settle lawsuits brought by their customers who lost fingers than to pay to license the patented technology.
Rebuffed by the power tool industry, Gass set about to market SawStop on his own and, in 2005, he began selling saws under the brand name “SawStop.” To date, SawStop has more than six hundred documented “finger saves,” incidents where the SawStop system activated, preventing serious injury.
The advent of SawStop technology has made it possible for wood workers who have suffered injuries with traditional table saws to sue saw manufacturers for selling their dangerous product. Generally speaking, product liability law requires that, in order to win a case claiming that a product design is defective, a plaintiff must demonstrate that an alternative design is possible that would be safer than the injury-causing design and roughly equal in cost. SawStop has done that: it has enabled saw injury victims to show that there is a safe, cost-effective alternative to the traditional table saw.
In March 2010, a Boston jury returned a $1.5 million jury verdict in favor of a man, Carlos Osorio, who had lost the use of several fingers in an accident involving a Ryobi saw. The jury award the verdict despite the fact that Mr. Osorio had not been using a blade guard at the time of the accident.
Historically, blade guards had been the only line of defense against table saw injuries. But research shows that most saw users have removed blade guards because they get in the way of some cuts and often become clouded with saw dust. SawStop essentially rendered the need for a blade guard moot by providing a system that works primarily through physical contact with the blade itself.
SawStop has also spurred the Consumer Product Safety Commission to action. Realizing that table saws can be made significantly safer through innovative technology, the CPSC is currently considering whether to mandate SawStop or some technology equivalent to SawStop.
If you have been injured through an outmoded table saw which lacks SawStop, you should be compensated for your injuries. Call The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C. today at (617)648-8263 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for us to represent you.
And for a glance at the amazing power of SawStop, please watch the incredible Discovery Channel video below.
Disclosure: The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C. represents saw accident victims in SawStop litigation.