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Man Claims Sears Lobbied Against Safe Saws

CHICAGO (CN) - Sears Roebuck and others "lobbied the Consumer Product Safety Commission to prevent the adoption of flesh-detection technology as a safety standard for table saws," an injured man claims in court.

Leonard Smith sued Sears Roebuck & Co., Techtronic Industries North America, One World Technologies, and Ryobi Technologies, in Cook County Court.

Smith says he severely injured the fingers of his left hand with a Craftsman brand table saw he bought from Sears in November 2010. Craftsman is a Sears-owned line of tools and garden equipment.

"The Craftsman saw, like all table saws sold in the United States, is required to be sold with a blade guard," the complaint states. "However, the blade guard on the Craftsman saw is extremely difficult to use and must be removed for a user to make certain cuts with the saw. Once removed, it is extremely difficult to reattach the blade guard."

Smith claims that many people permanently remove the blade guard because of these difficulties.

"The Craftsman saw also comes with a splitter or spreader attached to the guard that is designed to prevent kickbacks while cutting. A kickback is often the result of the saw blade being pinched by the wood as it is being cut. The back of the saw blade can cause the wood to jerk or kick back at high velocity into the user, causing the user's hands or fingers to be land on or be pulled into the spinning blade of the saw and leading to catastrophic and permanent injuries," the complaint states.

Since the spreader is attached to the blade guard, people who remove the guard are left unprotected from kickbacks, Smith says.

He claims that the "defendants have known for many years that kickbacks can be substantially reduced or eliminated by using a riving knife rather than a spreader or splitter. A riving knife is a small piece of metal that sits behind the blade and rises and falls with the blade. Even if the guard is removed, the riving knife remains in place, substantially reducing or eliminating kickbacks. Riving knifes have been used for decades in Europe and are required on all power table saws sold in Europe. Recently, riving knives have been included as necessary safety equipment pursuant to new industry-wife standards adopted in the United States."

In 2000, the inventor of SawStop technology, which stops a spinning saw blade almost instantly on contact with human skin, offered to license his technology to the defendants, Smith says.

However, "Defendants, acting through the Power Tool Institute, refused to license the SawStop technology and instead participated in a group boycott of SawStop. They also lobbied the Consumer Product Safety Commission to prevent the adoption of flesh detection technology as a safety standard for table saws," Smith says in the complaint.

"As a result, the Craftsman Saw had no flesh-detecting technology or other similar technology that would stop a spinning saw blade upon contact with human skin. Because it lacked such technology, the Craftsman Saw was unreasonably dangerous as designed and manufactured."

Smith claims that "Sears had actual knowledge of the aforementioned defects in the Craftsman saw and of its unreasonably dangerous condition. Despite such knowledge, Sears sold the Craftsman saw as-is, without incorporating the safer alternative designs that were readily available."

As a result, Smith says, "plaintiff suffered severe injuries to the fingers of his left hand."

Smith seeks damages for product liability, negligence and breach of implied warranty.

He is represented by Michael Cushing in Chicago, and Eric Pearson with Heygood, Orr & Pearson, of Dallas.

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