March 31, 2010

The product liability crapshoot

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:38

Tales of odd and unpredictable results coming out of product liability court cases are dime-a-dozen. This result is pushing to the limit of illogical: Carlos Osorio vs. One World Technologies Inc. et al.. This is the case where the court awarded the plaintiff $1.5 million because the tool manufacturer hadn’t adopted the newest safety technology, despite the plaintiff’s clear breach of common sense and safe practices in using the tool.

The accident happened on April 19, 2005, and the table saw Osorio was using was a Ryobi BTS 15, which was purchased at Home Depot on Jan. 10, 2005, for $159. At the time of the accident Osorio may have been employed at that company for two months; however, this is not clear, according to a deposition by Phat Vong, who purchased tools for the flooring company Osorio worked for.

Osorio is from Colombia, has a degree in computer science and was installing flooring as he learned English. 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.

For those of you who don’t know woodworking tools, a table saw is not something you can casually use in the same way you might use a hand drill or a sander. It’s a stationary tool with a long history of injuring the careless or unwary user: the act of pushing a piece of wood into a rapidly spinning serrated metal blade requires care and attention to avoid injuring yourself or nearby workers.

Carlos Osorio managed to do just about everything to increase the risk of injury. He removed the safety devices that are there specifically to prevent the kind of injury he sustained. He clearly didn’t understand the risks of what he was doing, and he was operating the saw in an unstable position. The only way he could have been in greater danger of injury is if he was intoxicated or blindfolded.

The only reason the saw’s manufacturer was the defendant in this case is the “deep pockets” theory of legal practice: don’t sue the responsible party (in this case, the employer who clearly failed to train Osorio in the safe use of the tool), sue the richest person or organization even peripherally involved in the case.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nicholas Russon. Nicholas Russon said: Blog post: The product liability crapshoot – http://tinyurl.com/yaqpznw […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention The product liability crapshoot « Quotulatiousness -- Topsy.com — March 31, 2010 @ 09:13

  2. Once I stopped cringing, I found I was totally incredulous. Totally because I can’t believe the levels of incompetence, stupidity and injustice by everyone involved except for the manufacturer.
    I need to go and do my neck exercises. ie: Shake my head and mutter to myself.

    Comment by Clive — April 1, 2010 @ 09:42

  3. Look – I know people who have stopped making any kind of architectural metalwork just because of this kind of crap. Let’s hope that clown cut his balls off and removed his genes from the next generation (?)

    Why do the courts even allow such foolishness? The response on filing should be ‘You are joking, right ? Get OUT of my court room!’ Maybe a fixed deposit to be paid by the one launching the suit, not refundable, paid in advance.

    One could only hope, but its proof again that we are not living in a sane world (at least here in North America).

    Comment by Darrell — April 1, 2010 @ 09:55

  4. Let’s hope that clown cut his balls off and removed his genes from the next generation

    No, he sliced off a couple of fingers which had to be surgically re-attached.

    Why do the courts even allow such foolishness?

    Courts are run by judges. Judges start out as lawyers. Lawyers can make a lot of money from product liability lawsuits. This particular case is pretty awesomely wrong, but it’s part of a much wider spectrum of customers suing manufacturers for ‘faulty’ products (the vast majority of cases seem to actually be inappropriate or oh-my-god-how-stupid-do-you-have-to-be misuse of a product).

    It’s why hammers come with safety labels and stepladders have warnings not to stand on the top step. It’s cheaper for the manufacturer to put “don’t be an idiot” warnings on their products than to face a continuing series of lawsuits because someone tried to balance a beer fridge on a plastic lawn chair in the wading pool. (Not a real case, that I know of, but the sort of thing that has been litigated in the past . . . thank goodness not always successfully.)

    Comment by Nicholas — April 1, 2010 @ 10:07

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