CHICAGO - A man who lost an index finger and parts of other fingers while operating a Ryobi BST20R table saw was awarded a new trial last week by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Brandon Stollings, who is suing Ryobi for alleged saw safety defects, won his appeal of an earlier ruling in which a jury sided with Ryobi. Stollings contends that the Ryobi should have equipped the saw with a riving knife for preventing wood kickbacks and flesh sensing automatic braking technology like the SawStop.
According to the appellate court's Aug. 2 ruling, the judges agreed with Stollings' lawyers that "the district court made three reversible errors," including:
1. "failing to stop Ryobi’s counsel from arguing to the jury that Stollings’s counsel brought the case as part of a joint venture with the inventor of the automatic braking technology to force saw manufacturers to license the technology and admitting hearsay evidence to support this improper argument;
2. "excluding the testimony of one of Stollings’s expert witnesses; and
3. "giving two erroneous jury instructions."
"We find that Ryobi’s joint venture argument was improper and prejudicial, so we vacate the judgment and remand for a new trial," the appellate judges wrote. "Because the remaining issues are likely to resurface if the case is retried, we address them and conclude that the court erred in excluding the expert testimony and in giving the jury a sole proximate cause instruction where Ryobi was not asserting a comparative fault defense or blaming a third party."
The judge's noted that while the Ryobi table saw was equipped with a 3-in-1 guard system to prevent injuries, that Stollings like many other users deliberately removed the guard system because it interferes with operator productivity. The judges noted, however, "Before a reader concludes that this fact decides the case, though, we should note that Ryobi’s former chief engineer testified that he had removed the 3-in-1 system on his own home saw and had instead installed a riving knife."
Stollings was injured while cutting a plank of laminate flooring in the Trevor, WI, home of his mother and step-father. As he fed a laminate flooring through the saw, a piece of flooring kicked back, pulling his hand innto the blade.
In 2010, a jury awarded $1.5 million to a man who severely injured his fingers while using a Ryobi table saw to install oak wood flooring.
Update: CPSC Table Saw Safety Rule
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is continuing to plod along its course to create a national table saw safety standard. The rule would likely mandate incorporating a flesh-sensing brake system on table saws.
Last month, CPSC closed a 60-day comment period in which it invited participation in a survey of table saw users to determine the effectiveness of modular blade guards.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.