United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.
severely injured his hand on the blade of an electric table
saw that he was using to cut pieces of wood. Plaintiff now
seeks recovery from defendants, alleging that the design of
the saw made it unreasonably dangerous. Defendants have moved
for summary judgment. I will grant in part and deny in part
following undisputed facts are set forth in the light most
favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. On August 1,
2014, plaintiff Erik Martin was cutting pieces of wood with a
Ryobi BTS21 table saw at a job site in Glastonbury,
Connecticut. He was using the saw to cut pieces of cedar wood
down to one-inch shims. The saw was designed, manufactured,
and distributed by defendant One World Technologies, Inc.
plaintiff was pushing one of the wood pieces toward the
blade, the wood caught an edge, and the blade began to slow
down. Then the blade suddenly sucked the piece of wood
quickly towards it-plaintiff's left hand was drawn as
well into the blade, resulting in a severe injury.
that injured plaintiff was manufactured by One World in 2007.
It is in the class of saws referred to as a bench top or
table saw. It weighs 61.5 pounds without the stand and has a
retail price of $249. It came equipped with a 3-in-1 blade
guard assembly. The assembly included (1) a plastic basket
that provides a physical barrier between the blade and the
operator; (2) a splitter-spreader; and (3) anti-kickback
pawls. The latter two elements reduce the likelihood of a
“kickback” that could cause injury.
plaintiff was using the saw, the 3-in-1 blade guard that was
supplied by One World to go with the saw was not attached.
Someone else had removed it. As far as plaintiff knew, no
blade guard was available for use on the saw.
evidence includes the expert testimony and report of Darry
Robert Holt, a mechanical engineer with more than 40 years of
experience evaluating the safety design of hundreds of
machines and products of all types, including table saws.
Plaintiff's expert opines that the saw was defective in
design because it should have contained at least two superior
safeguards to prevent the kind of injury that plaintiff
suffered: something called “flesh detection
technology” as well as a “modular” blade
detection technology first became available in 1999. With
this technology, a blade is able to detect when it comes in
contact with flesh. Upon sensing the flesh, the blade stops
within a few milliseconds and drops below the table surface.
The system reduces the severity of a blade contact injury
from catastrophic to minimal. Currently, only one
manufacturer- SawStop, LLC-makes saws with flesh detection
technology. SawStop initially used this technology only for
heavy duty “cabinet” saws that weigh hundreds of
pounds and cost between $2, 000 and $3, 000. In 2014 it began
to manufacture transportable table saws with flesh detection
technology at a retail price of $1, 600.
modular blade guard provides more frontal protection from the
blade when the hand approaches the blade from a fore/aft
vector. In addition, the component parts of the blade guard
can be individually removed by the user, and the guard
includes a splitter that can be adjusted to minimize kickback
occurrences even when other safeguard components are missing.
The modular blade guard is more “user friendly”
because it offers better visibility than the 3-in-1 blade
principles governing the Court's review of a motion for
summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment may
be granted only if “the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). I must view the facts in the light most
favorable to the party who opposes the motion for summary
judgment and then decide if those facts would be enough-if
eventually proved at trial-to allow a reasonable jury to
decide the case in favor of the opposing party. My role at
summary judgment is not to judge the credibility of witnesses
or to resolve close contested issues but solely to decide if
there are enough facts that remain in dispute to warrant a
trial. See generally Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct.
1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam); Pollard v. New
York Methodist Hosp., 861 F.3d 374, 378 (2d Cir. 2017).
Connecticut Products Liability Act provides a common cause of
action for claims alleging personal injury and certain other
harms from the use of a commercial product. See
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572m; Moss v. Wyeth Inc.,
872 F.Supp.2d 162, 165 (D. Conn. 2012). Among the various
types of products liability claims that a plaintiff may
pursue is a claim for design defect: a claim that a product
by its very design is unreasonably dangerous to a user or
consumer. See Bifolck v. Philip Morris, Inc., 324
Conn. 402, 434 (2016). All such claims for a design defect
require a plaintiff to prove five basic elements: (1) that
the defendant designed the product at issue; (2) that the
product as designed was defective (i.e., that it was
unreasonably dangerous to the consumer or user); (3) that the
defect caused plaintiff's injury; (4) that the defect
existed at the time of design; and (5) that the product was
expected to and did reach the consumer or user without
substantial change in condition from the manner in which it
was designed. See ibid.
does a court decide if a product is “unreasonably
dangerous” in its design? Connecticut courts ordinarily
apply a “risk-utility” test. Ibid. The
risk-utility test focuses on whether a reasonable alternative
design was feasible and available that would have avoided or
reduced the risk of harm, such that the designer's
failure to use that alternative design rendered the product
unreasonably dangerous. Id. at 434-35. Among the
factors to consider when deciding if an alternative design
was feasible include: (1) the degree to which the alternative
design could have reduced the product's danger without
unreasonably increasing its costs; (2) the degree to which
the alternative design could have been deployed without
unreasonably impairing the product's usefulness,