There are tens of thousands of table saw related injuries each year in the U.S. alone. A lawsuit recently filed by SawStop LLC against a group of large power saw manufacturers alleges that those companies have conspired for years to prevent adoption of the SawStop flesh detecting safety technology in table saws. The technology, which was first demonstrated around the year 2000, electronically senses when a finger or other body part makes contact with the rotating saw blade and quickly stops and retracts the blade, preventing many of the serious cutting injuries that are common to table saw use. In our own consulting work, we have investigated many horrific table saw accidents that would have been prevented if the saws had been equipped with the SawStop safety technology. In the suit, SawStop LLC alleges that the defendants violated the Sherman Antitrust act by conspiring to prevent the adoption of the technology over fears of increased liability for any saws that did not incorporate the new safety device. The suit also makes claims as to the roles of the Power Tool Institute (a tool manufacturer trade organization) and Underwriters Laboratories (a safety standard writing and certification organization) in the industry efforts to block adoption of the technology.
Aside from the specific allegations against the table saw industry, this suit outlines some of the methods that can sometimes be used by small groups of manufacturers to stifle innovation and dominate an industry. For example, when a relatively small number of manufacturers dominates the market, it is possible for them to agree to forgo available product safety design improvements and influence the writing of product safety standards so as to preserve their dominance in the marketplace, prevent innovation and protect themselves from product liability claims.