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Accidental nail to the head nets $2.5 million jury award

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When you hear about so-called "frivolous" lawsuits, it's usually in the context of the news media just being lazy, sensationalist, and taking advantage of a bias against lawyers and the civil justice system. They usually turn out to be not so frivolous after all. But, this story out of Los Angeles has us racking our brains to figure out just what happened.

Martin Oliver, a journeyman carpenter with 40 years of experience suffered an on the job injury. He was shot in the head with a nail gun resulting in permanent brain damage. At trial he was awarded $2.5 million.

The plaintiff's theory was one of design defect in the nail gun. If you're thinking of something like a hair trigger, which would be a serious defect, that's not it. The gun, manufactured by Hitachi, had what is known as a "contact trip mechanism." That means that the gun will only fire if both the trigger is pulled and the nose of the gun is in contact with something. You can't just pull the trigger and shoot at someone like a normal gun.

Apparently, this is defective. Not that the thing failed and the gun shot while not against a surface. The theory is that this safety feature is inherently a defective design. The plaintiff argued that the gun should have instead used a sequential trip mechanism, which requires you to press the gun to a surface and then pull the trigger.

The difference between the two is that the contact trip mechanism allows a second nail to be fired from the gun recoiling and the nose plate being tripped a second time, with the second nail being fired directly into the first nail. That's a recipe for accidents. In fact, the CDC has found that about two thirds of nail gun injuries could have been avoided with a sequential trip mechanism.

We don't want to label something as a frivolous lawsuit without more information, but we're having a hard time figuring out how the contact trip mechanism caused not only a nail to be accidentally fired, but fired into Oliver's head. And when it comes to figuring out comparative negligence, even if the contact trip mechanism is a design defect, ought not a carpenter with 40 years of experience know to get the safer tool?

[WSJ Market Watch]


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