Law Offices of Dischell, Bartle & Dooley, PC

Safety doesn't sell? Tell it to victims of dangerous products

It boggles the mind how loudly money talks. Dangerous products can be on the market and even when there is a known fix for practically eliminating the risk of disabling injury or loss of limb, manufacturers refuse to act on behalf of consumers.

Indeed, in some instances as Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys well know, they dig in their heels and pull and circle the wagons to prevent regulators from making them take common sense action.

Such seems to be the heart of the story regarding a device called the SawStop. It was developed in 1999 by a patent lawyer and handyman. It's really something of a stroke of genius. It entails the use of a weak electrical charge applied to a table saw blade. When a human finger comes into even the slightest contact with the blade, a sensor detects a drop in the current and a spring-loaded wedge stops the blade in a millisecond.

It happens so fast that about the worst thing that happens to the user is a minor injury.

At first, the inventor sought to shop the device around to all the major makers of table saws. He thought it would be a slam dunk sell and that he'd license the technology in a flash. What he got, though, was a unified, "meh." Eventually, he started his own saw company.

This came in the face of government statistics showing that some 67,000 workers and home handy people suffer injuries from table saws. Of those, some 33,000 send people to the emergency room. Four-thousand individuals lose fingers or worse. The estimated annual cost in terms of medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering is thought to be about $2.3 billion.

So why hasn't this technology been adopted across the board? Well, according to the creator of SawStop, apparently safety doesn't sell. That's what one tool making executive told him when he pitched his product in 2000. There also have been indications that individual companies have held off applying the technology because as an industry they realize that product liability risk could be elevated if it gets widely adopted.

Some 150 liability suits have generated against power tool makers since SawStop saws hit the market. About half of them have settled out of court.

Perhaps the brakes will only be applied once the liability price point has hit some as-yet-unknown ceiling.

Source:, "Saws Cut Off 4,000 Fingers a Year. This Gadget Could Fix That," Myron Levin, May 16, 2013

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