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Conway v. Robert Bosch Tool Corp.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 8, 2019

EDWARD CONWAY, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT BOSH TOOL CORPORATION, JOHN DOE 1 and JOHN DOE 2, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Edward Conway is a former union carpenter with decades of experience running various power tools. Mr. Conway suffered serious injuries to his right hand while using a Bosch Model 4100 table saw and its component push stick, designed, manufactured, and sold by defendant Robert Bosch Tool Corporation (Bosch). The push stick Mr. Conway was using broke into pieces when it inadvertently contacted the spinning blade of the saw, one of which punctured his hand. Mr. Conway at first sued in the Kent County Superior Court of Rhode Island before Bosch removed the case to this Court. ECF No. 4 at 2. Mr. Conway brings claims of strict products liability, negligence, and breach of implied and express warranties. Bosch moved for summary judgment of all of Mr. Conways's claims and, for these reasons, the Court GRANTS Bosch's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 13.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Bosch Model 4100 table saw is a portable power tool designed, manufactured, and marketed by Bosch. The saw exerts tremendous force during use, creating a danger that material being fed through the saw blade will kick back toward the user. Kickback occurs when the material binds between the saw blade and the rip fence[1] or any other fixed object. To minimize the risk posed to the user, Bosch sells the table saw along with safety devices, including a detailed operator's manual, a Smart Guard system, and a push stick. The various components of the Smart Guard system[2] are designed to prevent the kickback of material being pushed through the saw. The push stick is intended to take the place of the user's hand during operations in which the hand would pass within 6 inches of the saw blade.

         The table saw and push stick were, at the time of manufacture, subject to Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) Standard 987. UL tested exemplars of the table saw and push stick and found them to comply with the applicable standard that, inter alia, examined the material composition of the push stick, its length, its angular orientation, and its ability to withstand a specified amount of force. Bosch performed internal tests of the push stick as well to ensure it met standards for flexibility, strength, and ergonomics. Engineers at Bosch used the push stick to guide several thousand feet of material through the saw during which testing the push stick contacted the blade of the saw.

         Mr. Conway was using the push stick sold with his table saw while performing a task that would have brought his hand within 6 inches of the saw blade. He completed the cut without incident, placed the finished piece of material to the left of the saw and turned the power switch to the off position. Then he tried to set the push stick, still in his right hand, down on the right side of the saw. As Mr. Conway passed the push stick over the still spinning blade of the saw the two made contact. The blade grabbed the push stick and forced it between the blade and the rip fence. The kick back force created when the push stick became bound between the blade and the rip fence caused it to bow and then break into several pieces, one of which punctured Mr. Conway's hand.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, discovery and disclosure materials on file, affidavits, and any other admissible material in the record demonstrate that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. To determine whether summary judgment is suitable, the court analyzes the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Cadle Co. v. Hayes, 116 F.3d 957, 959 (1st Cir. 1997).

         The burden falls first on the movant to aver an absence of genuine issue of material fact which requires resolution at trial. See Nat'l Amusements, Inc. v. Town of Dedham, 43 F.3cl 731, 735 (1st Cir. 1995) (Citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). The burden then shifts to the nonmovant who must oppose the motion by presenting facts to show a genuine issue of material fact remains. Id. A factual issue is genuine if it "may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A fact is material if it holds the power to "sway the outcome of the litigation under applicable law." Nat'l Amusements, 43 F.3d at 735. The nonmovant must rely on more than "effusive rhetoric and optimistic surmise" to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Cadle, 116 F.3d at 960. Rather, the evidence relied on by the nonmovant "must have substance in the sense that it limns differing versions of the truth which a factfinder must resolve...." Nat'l Amusements, 43 F.3d at 735 (quoting Mack v. Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., 871 F.2d 179, 181 (1st Cir. 1989)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Mr. Conway asserts claims against Bosch for strict products liability, negligence, and breach of implied and express warranty. Because the same evidentiary deficiency undermines Mr. Conway's allegations of strict products liability and breach of the implied warrant}', the Court will discuss those theories together before taking up his remaining claims individually.

         A. Strict Products Liability and Breach of Implied Warranty

         Common to Mr. Conway's strict products liability and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability claims is the burden to prove a defect in the product and that the proven defect is the proximate cause of the plaintiffs injury. See Thomas v. Amway Corp., 488 A.2d 716, 722 (R.I.1985) ("In a strict liability action, the plaintiff has the burden of proving a defect in the design or manufacture that makes the product unsafe for its intended use, and also that the plaintiffs injury was proximately caused by this defect"); Plouffe v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 373 A.2d 492, 496 (R.I. 1977) (stating that the correct rule is "in a claim for breach of warranty the burden is on plaintiffs to prove that the product is defective, that it was in a defective condition at the time it left the hands of the seller, and that said defect is the proximate cause of the injury"). A plaintiff may rely on circumstantial evidence to arouse the inference of a defect. See, e.g., King v. Staples, Inc., No. C.A. 06-258S, 2008 WL 3895574, *10 (D.R.I. Aug. 22, 2008). But a ...


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