Table saw accidents are painful, life-changing and expensive. Each year, more than 67,000 U.S. workers and do-it-yourselfers suffer blade contact injuries, according to government estimates, including more than 33,000 injuries treated in emergency rooms and 4,000 amputations. 

For a more extensive investigation of power saw safety and the industry’s role, see Power Tool Industry Circles the Wagons as Disabling Saw Injuries Mount.

by Lilly Fowler, Fairwarning

Adam Thull was building a checkout counter for a local bookstore when he noticed a wood panel falling off the edge of his table. As he lunged to catch it, his right forearm got caught on the blade of his Ryobi table saw – and the machine quickly cut completely through one of his forearm bones and a nerve.

Adam Thull with his wife, Courtney, 4-year-old daughter, Stevie, and 8-year-old son, Cyril. (Kelli Engstrom)

Thull, 32, who was working at his shop at home in the small community of Crosslake, Minn., was airlifted to a hospital. That was the beginning of a medical odyssey that has included seven surgeries and visits to a specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., more than 200 miles away.

Still, after three years of treatment on his ulnar bone and nerve, Thull has yet to recover full use of his arm. He also remains unable to work and reluctant to go through surgery and a lengthy recuperation again. “I can’t endure anymore. I need to stay out of bed before my mind goes nuts,” Thull said.

Thull acknowledges that when the accident occurred in May, 2010, he wasn’t using the saw guard, which fits like a hood over the top of the blade. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, most operators work without the guard at least part of the time because it limits visibility and must be removed for some cuts.

But Thull is suing Ryobi, its parent company Techtronic Industries and the saw’s retailer, Home Depot, in federal district court in Duluth. He contends that his saw was defective because Ryobi had failed to adopt flesh detection technology, a system that can virtually eliminate serious injuries by immediately shutting down the blade on contact with skin.

The defendants deny responsibility for the incident, one of thousands of serious accidents suffered by American workers and do-it-yourselfers using saws from the major manufacturers that lack skin sensing technology.

Thull, who said he “kind of grew up with a hammer in his [my] hand,” had planned to continue supporting his wife and two young children with his home-based woodworking business. At the time of the accident, his venture had been profitable for close to three years.

Adam Thull's arm after surgery. (Photo courtesy of Adam Thull)

But now Thull’s wife, Courtney, struggles to keep the family financially afloat on her own. For about a year after the accident, Courtney handled a night shift as a nurse and also worked at two coffee shops, one of which was 75 miles away. The stress of juggling three jobs, Thull said, sent the couple back into marriage counseling.

His wife “went from raising her children to not seeing her children,” Thull said. Even so, “There’s not a way to compensate for me losing my arm no matter how hard she works.”

Thull said he went from “working and providing a life for my family to being the stay-at-home parent. Not only is that emotionally devastating to us, but, financially, it’s devastating as well because she can’t produce the money,” Thull said, adding that he is still unsure what he will do in the future to help support the family.

His role as a father has suffered, too. Their daughter was just one-year-old when the accident occurred, and Thull said, “I couldn’t even change her diaper at the beginning, with my left hand. It’s not something you could do one-handed. You can’t pick a child up and carry her around and do that stuff with only one arm.”

Thull said he and his wife weren’t able to keep up payments on their student loans, and they are now in default. As a result, he doesn’t see going back to school as an option.

If his family wasn’t getting a break on their rent by living in a home his uncle owns, Thull said, they would be out on the street.

Listen to Adam Thull describe his accident and how it has affected his life.

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