Attention Stupid People… please leave.

I subscribe to several different woodworking periodicals and I also read several woodworking blogs and view several woodworking pod casts.  Never before have I been so angry at the stupidity of a fellow woodworker.  A couple of months ago a man in Boston was awarded $1.5 Million dollars by a jury (even though he was only seeking $250,000) for nearly chopping off a few fingers while using a table saw.  Does anyone remember when someone won a law suit against McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee in their lap?  Did anyone else get angry about that one?  Well, that’s how I feel about this.

The argument was that the saw by Ryobi was poorly designed and inherently unsafe because it did not incorporate flesh sensing technology.  About 10 years ago someone developed a pretty good idea whereby the saw would detect that something other than wood had contacted the blade and would move an aluminum block into the path of the spinning blade.  This stops the blade in milliseconds and prevents the separation of your fingers from your body.  It does destroy the mechanism and the blade and is also expensive to incorporate into saws but it does protect the user.  Apparently the inventor of that technology tried to sell it to all the table saw manufacturers with no success so he decided to create his own company, aptly named Sawstop.

As a new table saw owner myself, I quickly became terrified of the fact that I was using a tool with a 10 inch blade spinning at high RPM and the thought that my fingers would have to be in close proximity to that blade.  Table saws have been around for a very long time;  Longer than electricity and the electric motor have been around.  I knew that somehow all those woodworkers who came before me had found a way to mostly avoid disaster.  After looking more into it I discovered there are numerous safety features in all recent saws and several tools and techniques all intended to keep your fingers safely away from the spinning blade.  The problem is that many people disable or remove the safety features because they decide that they are inconvenient.  I purchased my saw used from craigslist and when the guy dropped it off he gave me the blade guard separately and said he had never used it.  The blade guard prevents your fingers from hitting the blade while it is spinning.  It can’t be used in all situations and rather than take it off and put it back on a lot of people (including professionals) take it off and leave it off.  It also blocks camera views so woodworking shows on TV and magazine articles frequently show these essential safety accessories missing.

So, back to our story… Did the moron in question have the stock blade guard installed on his saw?  No.  Did the moron in question have the rip fence installed on his saw?  No.  Was he using a push stick?  Unknown, but from the extent of his injuries I will go out on a limb and say No.  Does it take a genius to know that a spinning saw blade sticking up 3 inches out of a flat table is dangerous?  I should hope not. 

It gets better!  Apparently, he was having trouble getting the saw to cut properly and felt a lot of vibration while trying to use the saw.  He shut down the saw and cleared away all the dust and debris and started up again with the same problem.  Rather than try to figure out what was wrong he just decided to push harder to get the wood through.  This is when he slipped and his fingers hit the exposed blade.

I should qualify my opening paragraph a little bit.  I am not really angry at this guy who was too stupid to have any self preservation instincts and ended up getting bitten by his saw.  Even people who use all the right safety techniques occasionally get hurt.  Table saws are dangerous!  My only lament there is that he didn’t damage anything that would have prevented him from contributing to the gene pool.  What I am really enraged over are the people of the jury who not only found for the plaintiff but also awarded him such a ridiculous amount of money.  When, if ever, are people going to be held accountable for their own actions in this country?  Why do we constantly reward people for being so dumb?  It’s getting unbearable.  I almost expect BP to file a suit against the United States government because they feel they weren’t watched closely enough to prevent the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico.  If they could get the case heard in Boston it seems like they might have a shot and shirking their responsibility in the matter.

If the housing bubble bursting has taught me anything it is that this country treasures its stupid people.  That was another situation where the people who were too stupid to realize they could not afford a $1M house on a $20,000 a year salary got rewarded by having the laws changed to try to help people refinance rather than get foreclosed on (I know I am exaggerating here but as someone who has been sitting on the sidelines because I “knew better”, this is what it feels like).

6 thoughts on “Attention Stupid People… please leave.”

  1. The worst part of this is that he was awarded 6 times what he asked for! These settlements are supposed to reflect the actual financial hit you take from the accident with some (completely understandable) quality of life/pain and suffering compensation added. Clearly these juries are enacting their lottery fantasies in the deliberation room.

    Of course, I also agree with you about the homeowner bailout. I don’t know why it would be a catastrophe if home prices reverted to their 2000 levels and were actually affordable again to professionals in their 30s – because salaries certainly haven’t gone up with home prices. The only way I’ll be able to afford a decent condo (!) in a cool area is to get rich or move to Austin.

  2. To avoid sounding overly bitter, and also partly to try to prevent every post I make on here a rant, I have not posted my feelings on the housing market… boy could I unload about that.

    What is especially irritating is that both Agent Archangel and I looked at what was happening in the housing market over the years and knew what was going to happen one day. I think we both always anticipated the bubble would burst in a big way and we would be able to sweep in and mop up since we had been saving for a decade.

    All of that came true except the part about the mopping up. Instead of letting people be taught a lesson about their own finances we are trying to find ways to help them. I really feel that if we weren’t as intelligent as we are that we would both be living in 5 bedroom houses that we can’t afford but it would be ok because someone would be working dilligently to try to fix it so that we could afford them.


  3. I had to look this one up just to see if it’s as retarded as you say. It is.
    Links to story:

    I like how EVERYONE compares this to the hot coffee lawsuit.

    There’s a bunch of different ways to argue this. I would love to talk to the folks who awarded this one. Your point about table saws existing before electricity is spot on.
    I saw the new safety device on discovery or something like that. While it is a great idea, and certainly has a “neat-o” factor… it should NOT turn the saw into a high end model just by its inclusion. There’s not much tech involved to it. A capacitive sensor with a spring loaded jam… However I’m not naive, and I realize that the inventor will seriously jack up the price just for the privilege.
    Also important to note, the safety device DESTROYS the saw once activated, due to it’s highly aggressive approach. The jam stops the blade instantly, so all that spinning torque is driven through the motor and bearings, tearing it apart.
    Unlike an airbag that can be replaced after a fender-bender, if the device is triggered for any reason, your saw is ruined.
    (oops, a drop of sweat touched the wood and the blade – whatever, you get what I mean)
    I can see reverse lawsuits on this just as easily. If the device became mandated, and it failed JUST ONE TIME to save a finger for whatever reason… I know I would be suing the hell out of someone if it were me.

  4. I was thinking some more about this while I was working in the shop… Using the logic here, anyone who was injured in a car accident after the invention of the seat belt, air bags, anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, etc… should be able to sue car companies for damages. Those features were not available in the lower priced cars for a while after they were 1st introduced. If you wanted to be safe you needed to spend money. This means that the auto makers were selling cars that were unsafe and it should be their fault that people were hurt or killed. They should have introduced the same safety features in every company at every price point at the same time immediately after a feature was invented.

  5. Interesting point about the cars. I’m guessing the overriding factor is whether the gov’t regulates power tools like they do cars, and I’m assuming they don’t. Car mfrs. could probably say, “If it was so important, why didn’t the gov’t require us to install them?” Seat belts weren’t even an option on American cars until 70 years after their invention. Of course, back then people were driving with the steering wheel in one hand an a glass of scotch in the other, and nobody sued companies and expected to win.

  6. I am not sure to what extent but the government does regulate the safety features on tablesaws. A law was recently passed to require riving knives on saws sold in the US because they are considered to be superior to the blade guards sold on saws today. I don’t know what agency regulates all this or how often they actually bother.

    Those people probably operated their table saws with one hand on the wood and the other on their whiskey and they turned out ok… didn’t they?


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