A carpenter set up a new table saw but didn’t install the included blade guard. He lost several fingers while using the saw. Can he sue a construction company for negligence?
In August 2009, Patrick Chaplain was performing carpentry work at a house being renovated by Peter Dimitri, owner of Beck Housing LLC in Louisiana. Chaplain had been a carpenter for 30 years.
Dimitri bought a new table saw and gave it, still in the box, to Chaplain to use. Chaplain and Dimitri’s son set up the the saw without a blade guard that was provided by the manufacturer. Most of the time the new saw was used without the blade guard.
One day, Chaplain had to make a cut in a piece of floorboard. He used the saw without the guard. The floorboard kicked back. Chaplain’s left hand was struck by the table saw blade, resulting in the amputation of several fingers.
Chaplain filed a lawsuit against Dimitri and Makita U.S.A., the saw’s manufacturer. Makita was dismissed from the lawsuit through summary judgment.
Dimitri’s first motion for summary judgment to throw out Chaplain’s lawsuit was rejected, but a trial court later granted his motion. Chaplain took his case to a state appeals court.
The court found:
- Chaplain said himself that the table saw was under his control when he was injured.
- Chaplain didn’t prove the saw had a defect and that Dimitri knew of a defect.
- His injuries occurred because the blade guard wasn’t on the table saw, and Chaplain was “well aware” of that.
- He chose to use the table saw even though he admitted that he had other tools at his disposal that could have been used to make the cut in the floorboard, and
- The cut couldn’t be made with the table saw with the blade guard in place.
For those reasons, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to Dimitri. Chaplain couldn’t sue him for negligence.
You might be wondering whether Chaplain could get workers’ comp benefits for his injuries. The appeals court record states Chaplain never filed a workers’ comp claim. However, it also states, “no workers’ compensation was purchased by Mr. Dimitri.”
‘I’ve done it this way for years’
Another note on this case: We often hear from safety managers that they have trouble convincing veteran workers to take proper safety measures. The argument they hear is, “I’ve done it that way for X years, and I’ve never been injured.”
Chaplain was a veteran carpenter. But check out some of the statements he made, according to the court record. Chaplain said:
- None of the table saws he had worked with before the accident had a blade guard.
- He had seen blade guards on table saws – he was aware of them.
- He had seen operating manuals for table saws, but never read them.
- He’d seen the warning labels that the table saw should be used only with the guard in place.
The appeals court called Chaplain’s injuries “tragic” and noted “his career in carpentry may well be over.”
You can pass along stories like this one to veteran workers who don’t want to take safety steps because they’ve never been injured doing it their way.
In Chaplain’s case, he used table saws without guards for decades. Then, one day, doing the very same thing, he lost several fingers. Chaplain’s previous actions weren’t safe because he wasn’t injured. Up to that point, he’d just been lucky.
(Patrick Chaplain v. Peter J. Dimitri, Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit, No. 2014-CA-1081, 8/6/15)