By Les B. Kerr,
In 1983, bricklayer Jerry Ross cut off his left hand while using a power saw.
The hand was reattached in surgery but Ross was disabled.
In 1990, a lawsuit was filed in Will County Circuit Court for Ross, 51, of Bloomington against Black & Decker, manufacturer of the 10-inch miter box saw he was using.
Now, two years later, the company has been ordered to pay $7 million in damages, reduced by the 7th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals from a $12 million jury verdict.
Ross’ lawyer, Laird Ozmon of Joliet, said the punitive damage jury award of $10 million in May 1991, reduced last month to $5 million by the appeals court, is among the largest in federal court records.
In addition to the $5 million punitive damages approved by the appeals court, it affirmed another $2 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded for Ross’ disability.
Punishment damages were asked for the company’s alleged failure to provide sufficient protection for users. Ozmon said the saw was sold without a right-side lower guard.
Black & Decker lawyers have asked for a rehearing since the appeals court October decision. Ozmon is opposing the rehearing. The court is expected to rule on the petition within three weeks.
Ozmon filed the suit here after a Will County Circuit Court jury awarded a Joliet man $2 million for an injury from the same model saw. The saw was discontinued in 1982. But Ozmon said the company never recalled the product. Ross was cutting window molding at the time of the accident. He lost use of 60 percent of the hand.
The appeals court ruled the punitive damages were valid but excessive.