Mike Harden: Jury finds fault with outsourced hammer

January 13, 2008


Amid early winter's chain of earthquakes regarding the dangers of toys made in China, the case of West Side carpenter Shawn Eastman didn't register much on the Richter scale of public concern.


The case, however, resonated in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on Dec. 17, to the tune of a jury verdict of almost a million dollars. And the noise of that decision regarding an outsourced-to-Asia hammer was heard all the way to New Britain, Conn., and the headquarters of tool maker Stanley Works.

"It's ironic and sad that Stanley's outsourced hammer returned to the United States and injured one of its customers," Columbus lawyer Tim Van Eman said Friday.

Van Eman's client, Eastman, recalled the spring day in 2004 that changed his life: "If I had been using a 4-year-old hammer, I might have understood how it could break."

He had bought the hammer only three months earlier. Yet break it did, as Eastman used the claw end to pop a metal band bundling a stack of home trusses.

"One of the claw heads shot off," he said. Had his left pupil been an archery target, the flying claw would have notched a bull's-eye.

His palm jerked reflexively to the wound, and when he pulled it away, his remaining eye saw only red.

"The first surgery was to try to stop the bleeding and close the wound," he said.

On Thursday, Eastman was wearing a cosmetic lens over the ruined eye. He yet works as a carpenter, although, with his left eye gone, he says, his depth perception, peripheral vision and ability to use his eyes for balance are shot.

"I kind of stay on the ground now," he said. "It'd be dangerous for me to sheet roofs or walk the walls."

Yet he works. Always has.

"He's not the type of person who would sit on a sofa the rest of his life and do nothing," Van Eman said. "He's just a classic, hardworking American construction guy."

And one who is in for a long fight. Attorneys for Stanley have asked for a new trial.

Van Eman isn't sure what point Stanley might make if a new trial is granted. It's not as though the hammer was being held to an arbitrary bureaucratic standard, he said. "Ohio law requires us to prove that the hammer did not meet Stanley's own specifications and performance standards."

He said that in the trial he pointedly asked Stanley, in vain, to produce records or evidence that its Taiwan factory was performing company-specified quality-control tests. Such tests might have revealed flaws in the process for cooling freshly cast hammers. Such flaws result in "quench fractures" not visible to a hardware customer with even two eyes.

Tim Perra, communications manager for Stanley Works, said Friday: "Stanley believes that the jury's verdict was against the great weight of expert and factual evidence, and Stanley intends to appeal."

If Stanley is first granted a new trial, there is no way to predict how a second set of jurors might rule.

After all, of the eight jurors in Eastman's civil trial, only six signed the verdict form, Van Eman said.

"The two jurors who didn't sign the ultimate verdict told us afterwards that they didn't do so because they wanted to give Shawn Eastman more money."