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Unkindest Cut: Home Depot Pays $25 Mill for Safe Hands

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 13, 2010 12:45 PM

"**** Michael Powell, let him sue us." That little pronouncement by a Home Depot executive upset a federal judge and did not please a jury either. This week, that federal jury awarded the same Mr. Powell nearly $25 million dollars in punitive damages, actual damages, attorney's fees and costs after the Home Depot corporation was found to have refused to pay Powell for the "Safe Hands" saw protection device he invented. According to the evidence at trial, Home Depot copied the device, refused to pay the inventor, and issued the aforementioned comment.

The Palm Beach Post reports that in 2004, Powell invented a device that would guard the fingers and possibly other appendages of Home Depot employees as they used the radial saw to cut wood for their customers. Powell offered his invention to Home Depot at an approximate cost of $2,000 per device. The bill would have come to $4 million dollars, significantly less than the costs of litigation and the judgment rendered this week.

The Post writes that according to U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hurley, the company refused to pay Powell and instead, had workers duplicate the saw guards Powell allowed them to test in eight stores in Georgia and California. In an additional cost/benefit analysis, the court noted that the year before the Safe Hands saw protection devices were installed, the Home Depot corporation paid out $1 million in claims related to injuries caused by the saw. In the year after the gadgets were installed, it paid out $7,000. As they say, it would have paid for itself.

However, the company instead "literally organized a theft of the Powell invention," said a deeply displeased Judge Hurley. The judge did not mince words, calling the company's actions "callous and arrogant."

Company attorneys declined to comment on the verdict. However, company spokesman Stephen Holmes issued an email statement. "We have a strong commitment to dealing with our business partners fairly and with integrity, which is how we've maintained long-standing relationships with literally tens of thousands of suppliers over the past 30-plus years. We would never condone actions that intentionally violate another company's intellectual property rights."

The company is considering an appeal. One could say this is a fine example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Interest on the judgment will continue to accrue until the judgment is overturned, or payment is made.

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