If a manufacturer, or other supplier of power tools, sells a tool in an unsafe condition, because of a manufacturing or a design defect, and it damages property or injures someone, the injured party may have a claim against the manufacturer of the tool and possibly other parties in the chain of distribution. This type of claim is often referred to as a products liability claim. Common personal injuries resulting from defective power tools include burns, cuts, strains, electrical shock, debris in the eyes, fires, falls, explosions, and injuries from falling tools. Property damage can also result, either alone or in conjunction with personal injuries, especially in cases involving fires or explosions.
Not only do manufacturers and sellers have the duty to provide safe products, assemblers and installers of power tools, too, can be liable for damages if a user is injured or property is damaged. Even rebuilders and repairers have been held accountable for damages resulting from power tools that they placed into the stream of commerce. On the other hand, if a retailer that did not manufacture the power tools sells the products in the same condition in which they were received has no reason to know of defects and has no information about damages arising from the use of the products, it probably will not be held liable for resulting damages. If an injured person’s employer provided the tool that caused the injury, his or her claim may be subject to the state’s workers’ compensation law.
One of the more common defects that forms the basis for products liability lawsuits involving power tools is the failure to install adequate safety devices. Unguarded moving parts cause the majority of machine injuries. Moving parts should therefore have fixed or interlocked guards that protect against injury. Some plaintiffs have even argued that the manufacturer should have designed the product so that safety devices could not be removed or so that the machine would be inoperable without the safety device in place. Such arguments are sometimes successful but sometimes not, depending on the facts of the particular case.
Many plaintiffs allege that the defendants failed to warn them adequately about the dangers posed by the products. Manufacturers have a duty to warn consumers about the dangers of even abnormal use of their products if assuming that such abnormal use will occur is reasonable. Manufacturers must also provide warnings of any dangerous deficiencies in their products of which they become aware after the sale of the products. This continuing duty to warn arises if the manufacturer learns of a significant number of product failures, unanticipated dangerous uses, or a high accident rate involving use of the product. If the manufacturers do not know the whereabouts of all of the dangerous products that have been sold, they may have a duty to provide warnings in publications with a wide circulation that are likely to be read by users of the power tools. Manufacturers have no duty to warn unanticipated users about the dangers of a product, such as when a tool manufactured for use by a skilled tradesperson is used by an inexperienced home handyman. Nor is there a duty to warn about dangers that are easily appreciated and recognized, such as the fact that power sanders are not meant to be used to file your fingernails.
Defendants in power tool products liability cases may argue that the plaintiff does not have a legitimate claim because he or she altered the product after it left the defendant’s hands. The mere fact that such alteration took place does not, however, free the defendant from liability; the real questions are whether the modification substantially altered the product and whether that modification was the real or predominant cause of the injury. Another potential defense to a products liability claim is that the user of the power tool assumed the risk, such as by removing a safety device. Or the plaintiff may have been contributorily negligent, such as by using the tool in a careless manner. The manufacturer may also argue that it complied with OSHA requirements and other applicable standards, and that it therefore was not negligent.
A plaintiff attempting to prove a products liability claim may rely on expert testimony on the product’s defectiveness, evidence that demonstrates the product’s dangerousness (such as a videotaped experiment involving the product), and evidence of other accidents involving the product. The defendant, on the other hand, may seek to offer expert testimony on the safety of the product, evidence of compliance with government and industry standards, and evidence of custom in the industry. If the plaintiff is successful, he or she will be able to recover damages to compensate for the injuries suffered. In some cases punitive damages are awarded, if the manufacturer’s conduct shows a complete indifference to the safety of product users.
If you think that you may have a claim based on defective power tool, it would be wise to promptly seek legal counsel. Statutes of limitations provide strict limits on the time period in which claims may be raised. Your attorney can advise you on whether you have a valid case and can represent you throughout the entire legal process to ensure that you achieve the best possible resolution of your lawsuit.