More Details on the Carlos Osorio Tablesaw Lawsuit
In March, a jury awarded $1.5 million in a case against Ryobi for a benchtop tablesaw injury, claiming that the saw should have been equipped with flesh-sensing, blade-braking technology, such as the SawStop system. The verdict, which has major implications for the tool industry, set off a flurry of commentary on the Internet, including FineWoodworking.com.
In a recent article that appeared in The Oregonian, SawStop President Stephen Gass said he felt vindicated by the award. Other tablesaw manufacturers in the industry, including Ryobi and its parent company, One World Technologies, won’t discuss the award, but court documents shed some light on the case.
The blade guard and splitter were removed and
he was making the cut without a rip fence.
In April 2004, Carlos Osorio took a job as a flooring installer for PT Hardwood Floor Service in Medford, Mass. According to the defendant’s trial brief, Osorio had never used a tablesaw before, so his boss showed him how to use the tool and cautioned him about the dangers. A couple of weeks later while installing an oak floor, Osorio was ripping a 21/4-in.-wide floorboard on a Ryobi BTS 15 benchtop tablesaw. The blade guard and splitter were removed and he was making the cut without a rip fence.
When he started cutting, he felt chattering and vibration, so he shut off the machine, removed the stock, and cleared away dust and other pieces of flooring from the saw table. Thinking he had solved the problem, he started cutting again, but his difficulties continued, so he pushed the board even harder. His left hand slipped into the spinning blade, nearly removing his pinky finger and severely cutting two other fingers and his thumb. Ultimately, Osorio would undergo five surgeries and 95 occupational therapy visits to treat his injured hand.
In April 2006, Osorio’s lawyer, Richard Sullivan, who first saw the flesh-sensing technology in a CNN video, filed a civil complaint on behalf of his client against One World Technologies, the parent company of Ryobi, Ridgid, and Milwaukee power tools. The complaint alleged that the saw’s design was inherently flawed because it didn’t have “flesh-sensing technology,” which would have stopped the blade when it detected Osorio’s fingers. Both Ryobi and Gass agree that Gass demonstrated his tablesaw invention to One World Technologies in October 2000. Gass, a patent attorney with a Ph.D. in physics, would later launch his own tool company when he was unsuccessful in licensing the technology to existing power-tool manufacturers.
Late in 2009, when responding to a Fine Woodworking reader’s question about why tablesaw manufacturers hadn’t adopted the SawStop technology, the major tool companies pointed to a number of reasons why they hadn’t struck a deal with Gass when he first approached them. These ranged from doubts that the technology would work over decades of hard use, to the difficulty—even impossibility—of rolling out the technology through an entire line of tablesaws, especially the small, portable, jobsite saws (such as the saw in the Osorio case) that must stand up to weather and other forms of abuse. Also, most were concerned that if they rolled it out only on some of their saws, it might amount to a tacit admission that their other saws were unsafe.
In any case, Gass went on to found SawStop, which manufactures three tablesaws, two cabinet-style and one mid-sized contractor-type, each equipped with the new technology. It is important to note that as a start-up company, SawStop was able to roll out one model at a time, giving them an opportunity to test their engineering and market viability with less risk.
Osorio’s case went to trial in February of this year and was decided about four weeks later. A jury concluded that Osorio was 35% responsible for his injuries and One World was 65% liable. They awarded Osorio $1.5 million in damages even though he was only seeking $250,000. The verdict form indicated that the jury felt the saw was “defectively designed” and the defects were a cause of Osorio’s accident.