Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tool Law

This coming weekend, I am planning to put down new linoleum tile in our laundry room, and to install some much-needed storage. The first step in this project is to get rid of the old tiles, which are the old-fashioned glued-on linoleum tiles, probably 25 years old.

Debbie and I have done this several times, in several houses, and we are quite familiar with the process. There’s a particular tool that makes this job quite easy: a heavy iron bar with a roughly 8” wide blade on the end. The idea is that you swing the heavy bar while scraping the blade along the already-cleared floor; when it hits the edge of a tile the inertia of the heavy bar puts a lot of force on the blade edge, and the tile either shatters or pops up off the glue.

We once owned one of these tools, but somehow we managed to misplace it (or perhaps we lent it to someone). So yesterday I made the epic journey to the nearest Home Depot (about 40 minutes away) to buy another one. They no longer carry the tool I’m familiar with — all they have are similar blades attached to lightweight tubular steel or fiberglass handles. No more heavy iron bar handles. I asked a Home Depot guy, thinking I might be looking in the wrong place, or they’d turned into a special order item. But he told me the sad story: somewhere, someone using the tool I knew managed to hurt themselves with it. They filed suit against the manufacturer and the place where they bought it: Home Depot. The theory of the suit was that the tool’s design was faulty; the heavy weight of the handle made it dangerous (it also makes it work, but that was apparently not relevant). The suit went to a jury trial, and the jury found against the manufacturer and Home Depot. The manufacturer was a tiny company that made just this one tool; they went bankrupt. Home Depot settled instead of appealing, and in the settlement paid a substantial sum of money — and agreed not to carry heavy-handled tile removing tools any more.


I asked the Home Depot guy if the new lightweight tools worked. He said that for the really easy jobs (which mine, thankfully, may well be) they worked ok, though it took a lot more effort than the old tool. He also told me that the steel-handled model (which I bought) could be used like a chisel — you could pound on the end of the handle with a small sledge, and get an effect similar to the old heavy-handled tool. This would be more dangerous than the old tool, but never mind something silly like commonsense or logic…

So… Thanks to some nameless plaintiff (and his enabling attorney), my life this weekend will be made much more difficult. I can no longer purchase the tool that really works well; instead, I have to suffer with an inferior tool. As I’m sweating my way through this project, I plan on inventing new curses to direct to the plaintiff and his attorney. And if I hurt myself while pounding on the end of the handle of this inferior new tool, I’ll be inspired to new heights of cursing.

But I won’t sue them.

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