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Cavanaugh v. Skil Corp.

Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey
751 A.2d 564 (1999)


Ronald Cavanaugh (plaintiff) was using a circular saw manufactured by Skil Corporation (Skil) (defendant). Cavanaugh released the saw’s trigger, stopping the motor, and then put down the saw about 18 inches away from him on the floor. Although the motor had stopped, the blade was still spinning. The saw then moved across the floor on its own and severed Cavanaugh’s toe. Cavanaugh sued Skil, claiming a design defect. Circular saws had retractable guards that were designed to cover the blade when the saw was not in use. The guard on Cavanaugh’s saw did not come down in this case. Skil presented evidence that Cavanaugh had wedged the guard open. Cavanaugh testified that although he knew carpenters who did so, he had never wedged the guard open. Other evidence indicated that that the guard could have been jammed by sawdust or wood chips. Cavanaugh’s expert witness testified that there was a blade brake for saws in existence, which was in fact used by Skil’s competitors, at the time Cavanaugh’s saw was manufactured. A blade brake was designed to stop a blade from spinning immediately upon release of a saw’s trigger. Cavanaugh’s expert testified that a blade brake would have prevented Cavanaugh’s injury. Skil’s engineer testified that Skil had declined to add the feature to Cavanaugh’s saw after finding that a blade brake might cause other injuries. The jury found that the saw was defectively designed and awarded Cavanaugh $200,155.20. Skil appealed.

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Holding and Reasoning (King, J.)

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