I was horrified today to receive a mailer from Fine Woodworking with the banner ad that some guy in Baltimore was awarded 1.5 million dollars in a lawsuit against Ryobi because the saw did not have a flesh sensor and injured him. I did not bother to dig into it further, not because I think it is false but because it is all too likely to be true. It seems that almost daily I am barraged with ads from one group or another saying that whatever the problem, “its not my fault and someone owes me money as a result”. This is yet another instance and I can see the consequences already if it does not get thrown out by some wiser court.
I use a table saw and other potentially dangerous tools almost daily. Their cutting edges are sharp and are turned by powerful motors. This allows them to make quick work of maple or oak planks or anything else I wanted to push against the cutting edge. There is a (very expensive) saw on the market that has some sort of sensor and an explosive cartridge that would stop the blade if instead I decided to push my finger into the blade. I chose not to spend the money on this obvious idiot-proofing but rather to invest in more tools. There are things called push blocks intended to provide more easily sacrificed ‘fingers’ when working close to the blade — I use them regularly.
I can see it now, ‘flesh-stop’ mandatory on all power tools, wood chisels with the warning ‘point sharp edge away from hand’, paint brushes with ‘hold this end and insert other end in paint’.
The tragedy is that public resources were used to put this whole example of individual stupidity on trial and a vendor is being made to compensate someone who should have known better. If I wreck myself doing something ill-advised with my equipment it is my fault — not someone else’s. I know the owners manual probably had extensive discussions of power tool safety — but clearly the owner had no obligation to read. It is like the snowmobilers who got killed holding a rally in a declared avalanche area last week — yes I am sure that the warnings could have been spray-painted on every snowflake, but if they choose to ignore the warnings it is their fault, not someone else. Seems we have forgotten the self-pruning nature of the tree of life. People who do not exercise caution in dangerous situations should not be rewarded for their behavior. To do otherwise is to make us all weaker and less likely to survive.