In March 2010, a jury awarded Carlos Osorio $1.5 million in damages he suffered after using a table saw. He filed a table saw lawsuit after his lawyer saw a demonstration of the SawStop, a safety device that can detect when the blade comes in contact with flesh, and stops the blade. The table saw lawsuit was filed against One World Technologies, Inc., the makers of Ryobi table saws.
Osorio injured his hand while using a Ryobi table saw while laying hardwood flooring. He required five surgeries, which totaled more than $384,000 in medical expenses. In the lawsuit, Osorio asked for only $250,000 in damages. The jury decided that to award Osorio $1.5 million instead.
The case set off a flurry of debate. Osorio was working as a flooring installer in Massachusetts in 2004, and before this job, he had never used a table saw before. His boss showed him how to use the device and cautioned him about the dangers. Even so, two weeks later, Osorio was injured while ripping a floorboard on a Ryobi BTS 15 bench-top table saw. He had difficulty using the device, and was pushing a board toward the blade. When he slipped, the blade severely injured four fingers on his left hand.
American manufacturers of table saws have been slow to adopt safety features. Riving knives, a safety device that prevents wood from “kicking back,” have only become standard in the last couple years. SawStop may be next.
Though the SawStop safety device has been available for more than a decade, manufacturers have been slow to adopt it into their new product designs, quoting an unreasonably high cost to consumers (about $100). Consumer advocacy groups have been asking the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), a federal regulatory agency, to require that table saw manufacturers include the new safety devices. The matter has been under review since 2003. It was not until 2011 that the CPSC even agreed to make a decision regarding the safety devices. The Power Tool Institute, a group that lobbies on behalf of table saw manufacturers, asked the CPSC to delay its meeting until 2012.
The safety invention, called a “SawStop,” runs a small electrical current through the table saw blade. When the blade is in contact with wood (a relatively poor conductor of electricity), the electrical current stays nearly constant. When the blade comes in contact with flesh (a relatively good conductor of electricity), the electrical current in the blade drops. A sensor detects this drop in electricity, triggering a safety mechanism that can stop the blade and retract it within 3-5 milliseconds. An expert who testified during Osorio’s case said that had SawStop been on his table saw, Osorio’s injuries would have been no more severe than a 1/8-inch cut on one finger.
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