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Nathan v. Techtronic Industries North America, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 17, 2015

WILLIAM D. NATHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
TECHTRONIC INDUSTRIES NORTH AMERICA, INC., et al., Defendants

Page 265

For William D. Nathan, Plaintiff: Richard J. Sullivan, LEAD ATTORNEY, SULLIVAN & SULLIVAN LLP, WELLESLEY, MA; Angus Dwyer, George Carpinello, Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, Albany, NY; Arthur L. Bugay, Galfand Berger LLP, Philadelphia, PA.

For Techtronics Industries Co., Ltd, Defendant: Rosario M. Vignali, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, White Plains, NY.

For Techtronic Industries North America, One World Technologies, Ryobi, Home Depot, Defendants: Jonathan Dryer, Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP, Philadelphia, PA; Rosario M. Vignali, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, White Plains, NY.

Page 266

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a products liability action brought by Plaintiff William Nathan. Nathan was injured while using a table saw manufactured and sold by Defendants. Presently before the Court is the Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff William Nathan commenced this diversity action on April 11, 2012, by filing a complaint against defendant manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. (Doc. 1). Nathan alleges state-law claims for products liability (Counts I, II, V, VI) and breach of implied warranty (Counts III, IV). This Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Defendants filed an answer on June 12, 2012. (Doc. 10). On March 18, 2014, defendants moved for summary judgment. (Doc. 31). Supporting materials were filed the same day. (Docs. 32-35). Plaintiff submitted opposition materials on April 22, 2014. (Docs. 38-43). Defendants filed a reply brief on May 5, 2014. (Doc. 44).

III. STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS

The following statement of undisputed facts is drawn from Defendants' statement of facts (Doc. 32) and the underlying documents. Plaintiff did not dispute any of Defendants' eleven factual assertions. ( See Doc. 39).

In 2007, Plaintiff William Nathan purchased a Model T82400-1 table saw that

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was manufactured, distributed, and sold by the defendants. (Doc. 32, ¶ ¶ 1, 10). The Model T82400-1 has a suggested retail price of $399 and weighs 122 pounds. (Doc. 35-1, ¶ 3). The saw came with an operator's manual that contained safety warnings regarding proper use of the saw's blade guard assembly and instructions on how to make rip cuts. (Doc. 32, ¶ 6). The saw itself contained on-product warnings to the same effect. (Doc. 32, ¶ 8). Nathan read that manual several times and was aware of the dangers posed by the saw's rotating blades. (Doc. 32, ¶ ¶ 5, 7). On June 27, 2011, Nathan was injured while using the saw to make a rip cut through a narrow piece of wood. (Doc. 32, ¶ ¶ 1-2, 4; Doc. 39, p. 4). At the time of the accident, Nathan was not using the blade guard assembly, which he removed because it interfered with his ability to make narrow cuts. (Doc. 32, ¶ 3; Doc. 39, p. 4).

IV. STATEMENT OF ADDITIONAL FACTS

The following statement of additional facts is drawn from Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts (Doc. 39, pp. 4-8) and the underlying documents.

Defendants had been aware for at least 10 years prior to Nathan's injury that users of table saws often removed the blade guard due to problems with its design. (Doc. 40-1, Peot Dep. I, pp. 25, 61-62; Doc. 40-2, p. 89; Doc. 40-7, p. 53). Removal of the blade guard increases the risk that the user will accidently come into contact with the blade. (Mehler Decl.¶ 14, 17, Doc. 42; Holt Decl.¶ ¶ 30-31, Doc. 43). Even without the blade guard, Nathan's injuries would have been avoided or significantly less serious had the table saw employed active mitigation technology such as flesh detection. (Holt Decl., ¶ 87-114, 204; Gass Decl. ¶ 11, Doc. 41).

In 1999, Dr. Stephen Gass, a physicist, patent attorney, and amateur woodworker, developed flesh detection technology in his garage using materials commonly available at retail electronics stores. (Pl. Stmt. Nos. 6, 7, Doc. 39). The concept relies upon human electrical capacitance: contact with human skin causes a change in the electrical charge running through the blade. (Gass Decl, ¶ ¶ 4-6). The change in current triggers the release of a compressed spring that pushes a block into the teeth of the rotating blade. ( Id.). The blade comes to rest approximately three milliseconds after contact and the user typically suffers only a small nick. ( Id.).

Dr. Gass introduced his technology and a prototype to defendant Ryobi and other manufacturers in 2000. (Pl. Stmt. No. 11). At the time, Ryobi had been aware of the technology but had only conducted limited research due to resource constraints. (Peot Dep., pp. 105-06). In January of 2002, Ryobi licensed Dr. Gass's technology. (Pl. Stmt. No. 12). Instead of proceeding with the license, however, Ryobi formed a joint venture with other table saw manufacturers in May of 2003.[1] (Pl. Stmt. Nos. 13-14). The joint venture developed its own flesh-detection prototype by 2005. (Pl. Stmt. No. 14). Dr. Gass, for his part, formed SawStop, LLC, which developed, produced, and placed on the market a table saw with flesh-detection technology in August of 2004. (Pl. Stmt. No. 16).

V. STATEMENT OF DISPUTED FACTS

A number of facts are in dispute. First, the parties dispute the existence of certain

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problems with the " 3-in-1" blade guard that came with the table saw. According to Plaintiff, the 3-in-1 blade guard impedes visibility, acts as hindrance for small and narrow cuts, is incompatible with certain cutting operations, and easily becomes misaligned; consequently, users often remove the guard. (Pl. Dep., pp. 31-33, 75, Doc. 34-4; Holt Decl. ¶ ¶ 17, 30-31, 38; Peot Dep. II 80-81, Doc. 40-4; Mehler Decl. ¶ 12). Once removed, the guard is difficult and time-consuming to replace due to its awkward design. (Holt Decl., ¶ ¶ 17, 30; Mehler Decl. ¶ ¶ 4-5, 17). As a result, the 3-in-1 blade guard is seldom used by a significant number of table saw users. ( Id.). Defendants dispute that the guard is difficult to install by pointing to evidence that Nathan personally had little trouble removing and replacing the device. (Pl. Dep., pp. 43, 62; Doc. 34-2, p. 9).

Second, the parties dispute whether flesh detection technology was technologically and economically feasible for small table saws at the time Nathan's saw was manufactured. Plaintiff contends that it has been feasible since 2002. (Holt Dec. ¶ 195; Gass Decl. ¶ 16). According to Plaintiff, flesh-detection technology is the same for any size saw and could have been incorporated into the type of saw Nathan purchased for approximately $50 to $100. (Gass Decl. ¶ ¶ 16-18; Doc. 40-18, p. 1239-40; Doc. 40-7, p. 6-161). Defendants, on the other hand, argue that incorporating flesh-detection technology into a small table saw would require an overhaul of the saw's basic design and greatly increase its weight and price. (Otterbein Aff., ¶ ¶ 3-5, Doc. 35-1). Defendants also point out that SawStop currently sells only industrial cabinet saws, professional cabinet saws, and contractor saws. (Doc. 34-1, ¶ 9). These saws are not comparable to a small table saw due to their vastly greater size, weight, and price. (Holt. Dep., pp. 88-89, 126-27). Defendants further note that if SawStop were to manufacture a small benchtop table saw with flesh-detection technology, the manufacturing cost would be between $250 and $350 and the retail price would be least $700. (Doc. 35, p. 1241). ...


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