Table Saw Manufacturer’s Failure to Include Automatic Guard is Not a Design Defect Under New York Law

On July 8, 2015, New York’s Second Department held that a design defect claim cannot be based upon a table saw manufacturer’s failure to include an automatic guard.

In Chavez v. Delta International Machinery Corp., 2014-05235, 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5769 (N.Y. App. Div. [2d Dep’t] July 8, 2015), the trial court denied the branch of the defendant’s motion for summary that sought to dismiss all claims based upon allegations that a table saw was defective for not including an automatic safety device – an interlock device that would prevent the saw from operating unless the blade guard was properly in place.

The table saw at issue was equipped with a manual safety (a blade guard), which required the saw’s operator to “manually push the adjustable guard down over the blade.” However, the table saw was capable of operating even if the user failed to manually put the guard in place. The plaintiff argued that the table saw should have been equipped with an interlock, which would have prevented the table saw from operating unless the guard was fully in place.

The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the saw was not defective simply because it was not equipped with an interlock device. In opposition, the plaintiff pointed to the testimony of his expert, who had opined that an interlock device was feasible and would not have impaired the product’s functionality because the saw could still perform “almost all types of cuts” with the guard in place. The trial court held that there was an issue of fact as to whether or not an interlock device could be utilized without hampering the functionality of the table saw.

Under New York law, whether a product is defectively designed turns on an analysis of the following risk/utility factors: (1) the utility of the product to the public as a whole and to the individual user; (2) the nature of the product and the likelihood of its causing injury; (3) the availability of a safer design; (4) the potential for designing and manufacturing the product so that it is safer but remains functional and reasonably priced; (5) the ability of the plaintiff to have avoided injury by careful use of the product; (6) the degree of awareness of the potential danger of the product reasonably attributable to the plaintiff; and (7) the manufacturer’s ability to spread any cost related to improving the safety of the design. Voss v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co., 59 N.Y.2sd 102, 108 (N.Y. 1983).

On appeal, the Second Department pointed to the fourth factor regarding the product maintaining its “functionality” with the safer alternative design: “An interlock on a table saw, which would prevent the operation of the table saw without the guard in place, could make the table saw unusable for certain cuts, thereby impairing its functionality.” The Court also cited to prior cases rejecting a theory of liability based upon an allegation that a table saw should be designed with an interlock. See Giunta v. Delta Int’l Mach., 300 A.D.2d 350, 352 (N.Y. App. Div. [2d Dep’t] 2002); Banks v. Makita, U.S.A., 226 A.D.2d 659, 661 (N.Y. App. Div. [2d Dep’t] 1996).

The plaintiff’s expert stated that an interlock device would not substantially impair the saw’s functionality because the guard system can be used for “almost all types of cuts.” The Second Department concluded that “since the expert used the language ‘almost all types of cuts,’ there were necessarily types of cuts which could not be done with the guard in place, and this case cannot be distinguished from the prior case law wherein it was held, as a matter of law, that failure to install an interlock is insufficient to impose liability.”

This decision is notable because it reinforces the narrow interpretation of “functionality” New York courts have utilized in assessing design defect claims. Although the saw could still perform almost all types of cuts with the guard in place, since there were some types of cuts that could not be performed with the guard in place, the Chavez court found that the functionality of the product was impaired, which prohibited the plaintiff’s design defect claim.


Danny Lallis (852x1280) (3)

Written by Danny C. Lallis

Danny is a Partner with Pisciotti Malsch, and his practice includes appeals, product liability, and commercial litigation.

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