We hear a lot about how big business tries to squelch the little guy, this is yet another one of those stories with a twist. The little guy wins. In a business-style David vs. Goliath legal battle, Home Depot is forced to pay Michael Powell for the invention they stole from him reports The Palm Beach Post.

When a Home Depot executive was told inventor Michael Powell might have a claim against the hardware giant for stealing an invention that keeps store employees safe, his reaction was swift and vulgar.

“[Expletive] Michael Powell,” the executive said. “Let him sue us.”

The crass response typifies the company’s attitude toward Powell, who crafted an simple, yet ingenious, way to keep Home Depot employees from slicing off their fingers while they’re cutting wood for customers, a federal judge said Monday.

“Home Depot knew exactly what it was doing,” said U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley. “They simply pushed Mr. Powell away and they did it totally and completely for their own economic benefit.”

Calling the company callous and arrogant, he ordered it to pay the former Boca Raton man $3 million in punitive damages. That’s on top of the $15 million a jury in March said the company should pay him for stealing his so-called “Safe Hands” gadget that is now affixed to radial saws at nearly 2,000 Home Depots nationwide.

And the damages for Home Depot don’t end there. Hurley also ordered it to pay Powell’s attorneys the $2.8 million they say they are owed. He also ordered it to pay Powell an estimated $1 million in interest annually on the judgment. The interest began building in 2006 and will continuing accruing until Home Depot pays up.

The roughly $25 million judgment could have been avoided had the company in 2004 agreed to pay Powell the $2,000 he offered to charge for each of the devices. That bill would have come to $4 million.

Instead, Hurley said, they dispatched workers to duplicate the saw guards Powell allowed them to test in eight stores in Georgia and California.

“It’s sad to say, but Home Depot literally organized a theft of the Powell invention,” he said.

Photo by jronaldlee

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