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Misplaced responsibility

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All dangerous activities require personal responsibility by those who engage in them, and few require a higher level of personal responsibility than woodworking.

Earlier this week, a man who severely cut his hand on a table saw in 2006 was awarded $1.5 million. At the heart of the lawsuit was the so-called negligence of the manufacturer, One World Technologies, for failing to include flesh-detecting technology in the saw. The technology, developed by the SawStop folks, was available to OWT, but they did not include it. Nor has any other manufacturer to date.

The successful lawsuit claimed, essentially, that the results of the accident were OWT’s responsibility, not the operator’s. That is pure garbage. The responsibility of an accident involving woodworking equipment is always the operator’s.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favor of safer saws. I applaud the mandatory inclusion of riving knives in new saws – they should have had them years ago – just as I applaud the mandatory inclusion of airbags and seatbelts in cars. And if it ever comes to pass that SawStop devices become mandatory in saws, you won’t hear a peep out of me. Anything that makes a tool I use safer, whether it’s my saw or my car, is a good thing.

But wait. In 2006 there were saws available that had the SawStop device in them; they were made by SawStop themselves. This injured man apparently felt that this device was important to have in a saw; after all, he successfully sued OWT because they didn’t include one in his. So why wasn’t this woodworker using a SawStop saw? They were available.

My Saturn only has front airbags. I could have chosen to purchase a Lexus, Cadillac or Mercedes with both front and side airbags, making them far safer vehicles. The logic of this successful table saw lawsuit would indicate that if I’m in an accident where side airbags would have prevented injury, then I should be able to sue Saturn because they didn’t include them. That’s ridiculous.

A successful lawsuit of this type effectively paints the losing party, in this case OWT, as a de facto lawbreaker for failing to protect the operator. The way I see it, only one law was broken – the one that says two objects cannot coexist in the same place at the same time; the objects in this case being the operator’s hand and the saw blade.

This most basic of laws was – and is always – the responsibility of the operator, and no one else.

Till next time,


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