SawStop Lawsuit Over “Group Boycott” by Table Saw Manufacturers Allowed to Move Forward
A federal appeals court has cleared the way for a lawsuit to move forward against several table saw manufacturers, which alleges that they engaged in a “group boycott” of SawStop technology, collectively refusing to license the safety feature that reduces the risk of most table saw injuries.
In an opinion (PDF) published last month, three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit split in a 2-to-1 ruling that allows the SawStop lawsuit to move forward against Black & Decker, DeWALT, Bosch, Ryobi, SKIL and other table saw manufacturers.
SawStop manufactures and licenses an injury mitigation technology for table saws, which detects when the blade comes too close to a human finger and automatically shuts down the blade.
The technology involves the use of a sensor system similar to what is found in touch lamps, which detects electrical conductivity of the human body in proximity to the blade. At the slightest touch of human flesh, the blade is instantly stopped, essentially limiting the risk of a table saw injury to a slight nick.
The complaint (PDF) was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in February 2014, alleging that a group of table saw manufacturers gathered privately at a trade association meeting and conspired to shut SawStop technology out of the market.
In addition to agreeing to collectively refusing to license SawStop technology, the manufacturers also allegedly conspired to prevent the injury mitigation feature from becoming part of the UL safety standard. However, the trial court dismissed the claims, resulting in the appeal to the Fourth Circuit.
While the ruling affirmed the dismissal of the standard-setting claims, and upheld the lower courts decision to dismiss several parent companies from the case, it does allow the group-boycott claims to move forward against a group of table saw manufacturers that account for the vast majority of all sales throughout the U.S.
Table Saw Injuries Preventable
Since about 2001, SawStop technology has been available for table saws to detect contact between a person and the blade, essentially eliminating the risk of amputations or severe lacerations.
The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has estimated that there are about 67,300 medically treated blade contact injuries each year, with about half resulting in hospital emergency room treatments. This equates to over 180 incidents each day resulting in the need for medical care.
Approximately 65.9% of the injuries involve lacerations, 12.4% involve fractures, 12% involve amputations and 8.5% involve avulsions, where a body part is forcibly torn away by trauma. The manufacturers of SawStop allege that most of those injuries can be avoided with the addition of their safety feature. Yet, manufacturers have refused to make their products safer.
According to the SawStop lawsuit, companies determined that they did not want the safety technology on the market, so they convinced other manufacturers who were considering deals with SawStop to back out of them, and convinced everyone else not to deal with the company. Instead, SawStop began manufacturing its own table saws.
As a result of the failure to install the readily available technology that makes table saws safer, and the failure to adequately warn consumers, a growing number of table saw injury lawsuits are also being pursued by individuals who have been left with severe and often debilitating problems following contact with the blade of a table saw without flesh-sensing technology.
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