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Voss v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co.

Court of Appeals of New York

March 22, 1983, Argued ; May 10, 1983, Decided

No Number in Original


 [*104]  [**206]  [***400]    OPINION OF THE COURT

We are asked to decide on this appeal whether the plaintiff established a prima facie case of strict products liability for an allegedly defectively designed product.

Plaintiff was using a circular power saw manufactured by the defendant to cut 2 by 4 boards for the purposes of remodeling the roof on his mobile home. Working at sawhorses which he had set up in his driveway, he would cut each board in half and then, using a template, cut one end of each board at a 45-degree angle.

The housing of the saw covers all but the lower portion of the circular blade. Part of that lower [****6]  portion of the blade is covered by a guard which is designed to move back as the blade makes contact with the wood. This guard has a spring mechanism so that as soon as the pressure from the contact with the wood stops, the guard automatically closes to its original position. The purpose of the guard is, of course, to protect the operator, but plaintiff's expert testified that in order for the saw to operate properly part of the blade should be exposed even when the guard is in the closed position to allow the initial contact between the blade and the wood.

Plaintiff testified that he was holding the saw in his right hand and bracing the 2 by 4 against the sawhorse with his left hand. As he made a cut across one of the boards, the saw hit a knot, projecting the saw upward approximately 18 inches into the air. Sufficient time elapsed for the guard to close before the saw came down in such a manner that the exposed and unguarded part of the rotating saw blade struck plaintiff's hand, severely lacerating it and severing part of his thumb which, upon contact, became wedged between the blade and the guard. Plaintiff testified that he believed the blade stopped rotating when it hit [****7]  the bone in his thumb. There is no dispute  [*105]  that the guard was operating properly and had closed as far as it could before the blade came in contact with the plaintiff's hand.

Testimony of an expert witness who had conducted a series of tests on plaintiff's saw also was presented. He testified that the kinetic energy produced by the rotating saw hitting the knot would be sufficient to force the saw into the air as plaintiff described. The tests conducted by the expert also indicated that sufficient time would have elapsed to allow the movable guard to close to its maximum point and that the guard on plaintiff's saw was operating as the manufacturer intended. Defendant did not question plaintiff's testimony that the guard had closed to its maximum point before contacting plaintiff's hand.

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59 N.Y.2d 102 *; 450 N.E.2d 204 **; 463 N.Y.S.2d 398 ***; 1983 N.Y. LEXIS 3075 ****; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P9676

Carlton J. Voss, Jr., et al., Appellants, v. Black & Decker Manufacturing Company, Respondent

Prior History:  [****1]  Appeal, by permission of the Court of Appeals, from an order of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Fourth Judicial Department, entered July 9, 1982, which affirmed a judgment of the Supreme Court (J. Robert Lynch, J.), entered in Oswego County upon a verdict in favor of the defendant.

Plaintiff was injured while using a circular power saw manufactured by the defendant. In his cause of action sounding in strict products liability he alleged that defendant's saw was defectively designed because the saw blade guard allowed an excessive amount of the blade to be exposed. It was the opinion of plaintiff's expert that it would have been a simple matter to design the saw so that it would be safer by extending the movable guard and that to do so would have brought the saw into conformity with both minimum safety standards and good design standards. At the close of the plaintiff's case, the Trial Judge dismissed the causes of action alleging breach of warranty and strict products liability. The case proceeded on the remaining cause of action sounding in negligence. The jury returned a verdict of no cause on the negligence cause of action. On appeal, the plaintiff urged [****2]  that it was error to refuse to submit the case to the jury on the strict products liability cause of action.

The Court of Appeals modified the order of the Appellate Division and remitted the case for a new trial, holding, in an opinion by Judge Jasen, that in order to establish a prima facie case in strict products liability for design defects, the injured party must show that the manufacturer breached its duty to market safe products when it marketed a product designed so that it was not reasonably safe and that the defective design was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff's injury, and that plaintiff in this case had presented sufficient evidence to justify submitting the issue of defective design to the jury.

 Voss v Black & Decker Mfg. Co., 89 AD2d 826.

Disposition: Order modified, with costs to abide the event, and case remitted to Supreme Court, Oswego County, for a new trial in accordance with the opinion herein and, as so modified, affirmed.


design defect, manufacturer, guard, strict product liability, cause of action, blade, reasonably safe, substantial factor, prima facie case, proximate, product liability, present evidence, modified, sounding, damaged, exposed, safer

Torts, Products Liability, Theories of Liability, Breach of Warranty, General Overview, Negligence, Strict Liability, Types of Defects, Marketing & Warning Defects, Design Defects, Elements, Causation, Proximate Cause, Defenses, Plaintiff Conduct