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Table saw suit blames Makita for design defects

California consumers do not expect the products they buy to be dangerous if used properly, but if a manufacturer makes a product difficult to use safely, who is at fault? Power tool maker Makita Corp. is named in a product liability lawsuit filed by a man whose fingers were mangled by a table saw. The plaintiff states that the manufacturer, despite commonly-available safety technology, chose to design, make and distribute a dangerous product. He says that his fingers were permanently damaged and disfigured in 2012 when they were cut by a Makita table saw blade.

U.S. safety laws required table saws to have blade guards to prevent accidents. The injured consumer's suit says that Makita knew its blade guards were hard for consumers to use and attach. The suit alleges that difficulty with the blade guard discouraged consumers from using the safety feature or reattaching the guard after making certain blade cuts.

A splitter, attached to the guard, keeps cut wood from being thrown out of the saw. Consequently, when the guard is removed, so is the extra kickback protection. Makita could have chosen to prevent wood kickbacks with a detached metal piece called a riving knife, which is used by many other saw manufacturers. Makita's saw also does not include a SawStop, a widely-used "flesh-sensing" device that automatically stops a rotating blade that comes into contact with human skin.

Poor planning by a designer or engineer can make a product hazardous for all consumers. A design flaw can have the potential to cause injuries no matter how well the product is manufactured or which consumer uses it. A successful product liability claim also must show that the plaintiff did not misuse or alter a product. However, it is also possible for a manufacturer to be found liable if it did not take steps to warn consumers about the dangers of possible misuse.

Source: The Pennsylvania Record, "Pa. consumer injured by table saw sues Japanese manufacturer Makita Corp." Jon Campisi, Jan. 14, 201 

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