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Carpenter Who Cut Off Own Thumb Has Personal Injury Suit Tossed Out

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A Massachusetts carpenter who filed a personal injury lawsuit against a homeowner after accidentally severing off his own thumb had his case dismissed by an appellate panel. In the initial complaint, William Aulson alleged that homeowner Lisa Stone negligently allowed her five-story home’s ground floor undergoing renovation to be used as a storage area despite ongoing construction work occurring on that floor.

As a result of the limited space available, Aulson claimed he was forced to operate his table saw on the floor without restraints. According to the complaint, using the table saw in such a way caused it to suddenly move freely after the power cord was accidentally pulled by an individual, leading to Aulson’s thumb being severed. Aulson was operating as an independent contractor hired by Stone’s general contractor, AD Construction. Aulson argued that Stone should be held responsible for AD Construction’s failure to provide a safe working environment. The appellate panel, however, disagreed.

On Friday the panel ruled there was no evidence that Stone retained control over AD Construction’s work. Additionally, the court ruled Stone had no control over the operative details of the continuing construction project, including any relevant safety protocols.

In their decision, the panel said, “Here, the homeowner’s contract with the general contractor expressly allocated responsibility for the renovation to the contractor…Pursuant to the contract, the contractor alone was required to furnish all materials, to perform all the work, to obtain all permits, and to ensure the work was completed in compliance with all building codes and other laws.”

Moreover, the opinion states, “Together, the homeowner’s responsibilities are the type … that have been uniformly held to be insufficient, as a matter of law, to trigger the ‘retained control’ exception to the general rule.”

As far as which decisions Stone retained control over, the appeals court said only work stoppages or resumptions, inspections of ongoing work, and suggestions that did not necessarily need to be followed up on were relevant in regards to this particular incident.

Furthermore, the panel rejected Aulson’s argument contending that Stone breached her duty of care to lawful visitors, noting the fact that the use of power tools with sharp blades was an obvious danger. The panel made specific mention of Aulson having owned the table saw in question, and his responsibility in bringing it to the construction site where the accident occurred.

“The homeowner did not direct how the employee used the saw, where the employee plugged in the saw, or the length or the path of the extension cord used to power the saw,” the panel said. “The employee alone determined to use the table saw on the ground rather than on a table. He chose to ‘freehand’ cut pine wood, using both hands on the wood and apparently nothing to restrain the saw itself. Under such circumstances, we are doubtful that the homeowner had a duty to remedy the obvious hazard attendant to the employee’s decision to misuse his own table saw in the manner alleged.”

The Massachusetts Appeals Court panel included judges Sydney Hanlon, Dalila Wendlandt, and John Englander.

A request for comment by Personal Injury News to Aulson’s counsel, attorney David E. Hoyt, has not yet been returned.