Am I liable if someone is injured by the used tool I sold?
After reading about the tablesaw lawsuit in issue 199 (September 2010), I began to worry about the pending sale of my old tablesaw and jointer. If I sell them and the buyer hurts himself, am I liable? Would it be less trouble to just haul them to the scrapyard?
—John Durda, Oxnard, Calif.
Don't toss those tools just yet, John. We posed your legal stumper to Keith Miller, professor of Law at Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa. According to Keith, the court systems don't attach the same strict liability to "casual sellers" that they do to manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers.
Unless you earn a significant part of your income dealing in used machinery, you fall into the "casual seller" category. For the most part, the courts have protected these individuals as long as an "as is, where is" understanding is in place—meaning the tool is sold in its present condition at the current location with no warranty implied. The "as is, where is" nature of secondhand tools is generally implied from casual sellers. But if it makes you feel safer, Keith suggests explicitly advertising them as such.
Now, some commonsense caveats: First, do your best to search out and include all the safety equipment that originally came with the tool. If you no longer have it, make sure the buyer knows this is part of the "as-is" condition of the tool. Or better yet, contact the manufacturer to purchase replacements (or for suggestions for suitable aftermarket versions). You could even use these new parts as a selling point! Second, if you've altered the tool significantly, especially in a way to make it more dangerous, a court of law could rule against you if the plaintiff proves that there was malice or negligence on your part.