Anyone who has used a table saw for any period of time is aware of the SawStop table saw. Of course, various legal and patent issues surround table saw safety and, in particular, the SawStop system. The existence of this safety mechanism promises (and in a large way follows through on) a system to provide unheard of safety with respect to the use of an electric saw. The Bosch Tools table saw lawsuit arose before Bosch created its own flesh-detecting table saw solution: the Bosch Reaxx table saw.
Background info: SawStop was developed and patented by Steve Gass, a lawyer and “avid woodworker”. He came up with an idea to make table saws (or any electric saw for that matter) safer for users who come into accidental contact with the blade during use.
Mandating Table Saw Safety Through Legislation
What came next is a bit of controversy. Mr. Gass attempted to pursue legislation to make his patented technology mandatory through the Consumer Protection Safety Commission. This apparently occurred after receiving little support for his proposal to license the technology to manufacturers. Somewhere around June of 2006, in response to a petition from Gass, engineers at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommended that the government begin a “rulemaking process”. That could result in mandatory safety standards for table saws. The agency’s commissioners then turned the power tool industry on its ear by agreeing with Gass’ recommendation.
In a subsequent letter:
Mr. Schiech indicated that if the Commission issued a mandatory rule it would be extremely difficult for the industry to comply because of patent restrictions on sensor technology. Ms. Weller pointed out that the Commission does not mandate design requirements… If it did anything, the Commission would issue a performance requirement and companies would be free to meet it in any way possible, including using sensors, or with a new guard or any of the other improvements the industry was currently considering.
Power Tool Institute Arguments
The Power Tool Institute (made up of many of the major tool manufacturers) takes strong offense to the concept of making safety devices like this mandatory on products like table saws. They cite both technical and practical/financial problems with mandating SawStop technology – and there are a lot:
- PTI estimates the additional cost to manufacturers to implement this technology at $150-$200 per product. That amount passes on to the consumer.
- Gass (SawStop) is asking for 8 percent licensing/royalties on the wholesale price of each saw sold. Many manufacturers view this figure as near-extortion and monopoly position. This fee would likely pass directly to consumers.
- “False positives” or “nuisance trips” produce downtime and expenses. False positives can trip on common materials such as moist wood (think freshly delivered pressure-treated lumber).
- A false trip mandates replacement of the brake mechanism which is an expensive piece (~$59)
- A false trip mandates the replacement of the saw blade. Why? The carbide teeth might jar or break loose—creating a hazard. As most pros know, blades can be upwards of $100 each.
- During a braking event, carbide teeth could be thrown through the blade opening.
- Existing Underwriters Laboratories document ANSI/UL 987 includes provisions for maintaining a safe distance from saw blades. They also include instructions for proper use.
- The “court is out” on how a high-impact braking mechanism will affect smaller jobsite table saws.
- Consumer choice can dictate whether this technology and its associated potential issues and added cost will gain widespread acceptance by consumers
- A low percentage of the 30,000 annual (U.S.) table saw injuries are due to contact with the blade. Most occur due to kickback.
Increased Manufacturing Costs to Consumers
Between the 8% fee and the additional hardware costs, your typical $400 jobsite saw would potentially rise in cost to around $625. Your entry-level table saws would all but disappear. I’m not sure how well that will be received by consumers who can keep themselves safe and don’t need the Consumer Protection Safety Commission to do them any “favors”.
The real controversy comes in that legislation like this would set a precedent that would mandate any technology that increases the safety of a dangerous power tool. This would necessarily come about since liability issues would force this reality through insurance rates and potential for lawsuits. The potential for unintended consequences are immense – including manufacturers who may stop making more dangerous products or compromising in other areas (quality) in order to meet the price requirements of incorporating this particular technology.
On top of all this, in terms of table saw safety, kickbacks are certainly more dangerous, and cause far more injuries each year, than cutting off fingers. Currently, new advances are already being implemented through UL approval guidelines (new for 2010) to incorporate these safeguards.
The Bosch Tools Table Saw Lawsuit
So what brought this back to the forefront? A lawsuit. A man who was cut by a miter saw contended that Robert Bosch Tool Corp. “colluded with its competitors”. It furthers that Bosch lobbied the Consumer Protection Safety Commission to keep “flesh detection and braking technology” from being required on table saws.
To our knowledge, no manufacturer is anxious to pay SawStop an 8% license fee for this technology anytime soon, especially when the manufacturing for the technology alone will increase the average price of a table saw by anywhere from $150-$200 by the time it hits the shelves.
The Bosch Tools table saw lawsuit, however, states that “By agreeing not [to] employ such safer alternatives, the defendant and its competitors attempted to assure that those alternatives would not become ‘state of the art,’ thereby attempting to insulate themselves from liability for placing a defective product on the market.” The bringer of the suit is essentially claiming that his permanent and “traumatic injury” could have been prevented if Bosch and its competitors had not rejected and fought against the safety technology.
Preventing Safety or Unintended Consequences
We don’t think Bosch (or any other tool manufacturer for that matter) wants to prevent safety devices, but simply prevent the unintended consequences of adding mandatory safety devices. These would, in some instances, double the price of entry-level power saws. If the technology were not under patent, we’d be more apt to encourage manufacturers to push this technology forward—as an OPTION. However, the manufacturing costs, coupled with licensing fees, make this a truly difficult prospect.
The Bosch Tools table saw lawsuit is almost a paradox. In our humble opinion, it should have been immediately thrown out for what appears to be VERY obvious reasons.
Analysis of a Lawsuit
Point by point we can analyze the Bosch Tools table saw lawsuit as follows:
The plaintiff claims that “flesh detection and braking technology” and “user-friendly blade guard(s)” have been available for years. The flesh detection technology stops a blade instantly when it is touched by human flesh.
By his own admission he knew the technology was available (for table saws) but what he doesn’t admit is that even the originator of the technology (SawStop) failed to ever place it into a miter saw – which was the tool used during the unfortunate accident. If the patent-owner hadn’t come up with a reason, method, or incentive to develop a SawStop-enabled Miter saw, then it is unreasonable to assert that Bosch should have done so.
He says the technology could have prevented his 2007 injury from a Bosch miter saw.
While technically true. His injury also would also have been prevented by a special medical device which creates a force field around your body and deflects all injuries. We’re being facetious, but like the force field, the SawStop hadn’t been specifically implemented for use with miter saws… Neither product (force field, or SawStop-enabled miter saw) technically exists.
Other Ways to Prevent Table Saw Injuries
Besides that, his injury would also have been prevented by properly following existing safety procedures. These come well documented and were clearly violated in this instance. You can’t cut off your fingers if they don’t get near the blade.
He claims that the inventor of the flesh detection brake offered Bosch a licensing agreement in 2000 during a Power Tool Institute meeting, but Bosch rejected the offer. He furthers that Bosch Tool “colluded with its competitors” to develop their own version, and continued to sell their dangerous table and miter saws.
I don’t know about the legal language involved, but that sounds a lot like competition. It’s also a business decision.
Legislating Bad Business Decisions
To hold Bosch liable for not making a bad business decision that would cost them lots of money seems a bit unreasonable if not ludicrous.
He claims that Bosch, “acting through PTI, has also actively lobbied the Consumer Product Safety Commission…to prevent the adoption of flesh detection systems as a safety standard on table saws.”
Of course they did. As did every other manufacturer. So Bosch apparently doesn’t want to be under a law that would double the price of many of their saws. It would also require expensive safety devices on miter saws (which really don’t need them). Lastly, it would force them (and all other manufacturers) to pay royalties to a monopolistic single license holder of the SawStop technology. We wouldn’t either.
The plaintiff is demanding more than $30,000 from Bosch for negligence, breach of warranty, and product liability. We’re sorry for his loss. However, we think this represents an unusual lawsuit considering the defendant seems to have violated no actual laws.