$15 mil verdict for little guy puts Home Depot in a fix

The father of Michael Powell, the inventor who won a $15 million jury decision against Home Depot last month for stealing his safety-saw patent, said the case probably won't sway consumers to shop elsewhere. But it shows that underdogs can triumph once in a while.

"It reminds me of David and Goliath and the Bible," Lamar Powell told WalletPop on Friday.

In this story the Goliath of Home Depot will survive -- after it appeals or perhaps faces triple the damages if Powell's lawyers have their way. The determination that the home improvement giant willfully ripped off Powell's "Safe Hands" prototype leaves open the possibility. The verdict also threw a forceful jab -- not a knockout blow -- to the Home Depot's image.

"They may lose a few people, and people will go and get the best buy they can," Lamar Powell said. "I don't know if it will make a difference. To some it might."

Michael Powell, a married 52-year-old, appears to be keeping a low profile in his small North Carolina town since the verdict was announced in a West Palm Beach, Fla., courtroom on Feb. 24. He didn't return a phone message left by WalletPop. He's trying to move on with his life, his father said, adding that religious faith helped carry his son through the six-year legal battle.

In 2004, the younger Powell developed a protective device to prevent Home Depot employees from cutting themselves while sawing lumber. Home Depot offered him a price that he rejected. Then Home Depot tried to manufacture it illicitly through a different company, the jury determined. A smoking gun, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post, was a photo of Home Depot officials allegedly measuring Powell's device so they could copy it.

Home Depot asserts it did nothing wrong. "I was a little surprised that justice still prevailed," Lamar Powell said.

The elder Powell was understandably circumspect during the interview. The legal wrangling isn't over. He had never heard of WalletPop. But he had plenty to say about his son.

"He has lived a Christian life," the father explained. "A lot of sons look up to their fathers but this is one son I look up to. He sets an example for me."

One of Powell's lawyers, Alexander D. Brown of Tripp Scott P.A. in South Florida, told WalletPop that the firm could not comment because of motions pending.

Home Depot, the nation's second-largest retailer behind Wal-Mart, has withstood the economic turmoil in part by capping its expansion to better compete with Lowe's, according to theNew York Times. It doesn't need the negative headlines about an inventor who made Home Depot employees safer, but had to protect himself from the company honchos who originally reached out to him.

Between 2001 and 2006, the company faced 235 injury lawsuits filed in federal courts, a report said. Michael Powell tried to help Home Depot to prevent more, and the company appears to have betrayed him.

Maybe this was the right moment for David to beat Goliath once again. Said Lamar Powell: "They thought they could push him over."
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