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Law Bulletin staff writer

A federal jury has ordered Black & Decker to pay $12 million – including $10 million in punitive damages – to a man whose left hand was nearly severed in an accident involving one of the company’s power saws.

The jury also awarded 50-year old bricklayer Jerry Ross $2 million in compensatory damages for the injury. U.S. District Judge George Marovich presided in the case.

Ross’s attorney, Laird Ozmon of Joliet, argued that the Black & Decker 10-inch Power Miter Box Saw (Model No. 7717, Type 1) was unreasonably dangerous because it was manufactured and sold without a right side lower blade guard.

Black & Decker’s attorney, Aligmantas Kezelis of French, Kezelis & Kominiarek in Chicago, countered that “no injury has ever occurred where the absence of the guard had anything to do with it.”

The power saw had guards on its upper right and left blades and lower left blade.

A former Black & Decker designer who worked on the saw, told the jury the saw was unreasonably dangerous without the lower right blade guard. He also said that he could have designed the appropriate guard if the company had given him enough time.

Kezelis said Black & Decker is considering appealing the verdict. “There is no condition in the product that made it dangerous. The product was safe,” he said.

Ross nearly amputated his hand while doing trim work on a house in 1983, according to Ozmon’s associate, James P. Stevenson. He was cutting molding at a full right 45-degree angle, and his hand drifted into the lower part of the right side of the blade. His hand was left hanging by a two-inch flap of skin, Stevenson said.

Ross’s hand has been re-planted, but doctors say he only has about 40 percent use of it. Members of the Will County bricklayers union, of which Ross was a member, testified that he is now unemployable as a bricklayer.

In 1982, Underwriters Laboratory mandated that all saws have a double-sided lower guard in order to receive UL approval, noted Stevenson.

Black & Decker sold at least 70,000 miter saws with single-sided blade guards between 1979 and 1982, Stevenson estimated. The saws have been sold with double-sided blades since 1982, he added.

Stevenson said he personally knows of at least four other injuries stemming from the unguarded right lower blade.

But Kezelis said that the unguarded lower right blade on the saws has not caused any injuries.

According to Ozmon, Black & Decker made no offer to settle the case. Ozmon asked the jury for about $2 million in compensatory damages and $10 to $20 million in Punitive damages.

The case was originally filed in Will County Circuit Court in 1990. Kezelis removed it to U.S. District Court later that year, Jerry L. Ross v. Black & Decker, Inc., No. 90 C 4439.