By KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News
Mitch Seavey doesn’t want to talk about his finger.
The 2004 Iditarod champion brushed aside questions about the cockeyed, damaged digit on his right hand during a short interview today at a Midtown coffee house. What Seavey wants people to know, he said, is why he filed a controversial lawsuit against an Oregon-based knife maker.
“My goal is to get the knife off the market,” Seavey said of the Kershaw folding blade with which he nearly severed his finger in the 2011 sled dog race.
“At some point I feel like it’s my responsibility to step forward and do something. Even if it’s not maybe a popular thing in everyone’s mind,” he said.
Seavey filed the lawsuit in Bethel state Superior Court in December, court records show. The case was later moved to federal court, and became public in a Daily News story earlier this month.
The musher's right: Not everyone approved of the suit. Some fans criticized the move while fellow former champion Lance Mackey blamed the trail-side mishap on carelessness. Product liability complaints routinely draw a backlash from online readers, and this story was no different.
In Seavey’s case, the musher is arguing that the knife suffers a major design flaw that prompts it to close unexpectedly when used as intended.
The back of the locking blade has a "gut hook," a sharp, curved blade designed for skinning game animals. The locking release button is in the center of the handle, which allowed the blade to close on Seavey’s fingers while he was using the hook to unbundle a bale of straw, the lawsuit claims.
Kershaw Knives, owned by Kai USA ltd. of Japan, has denied the negligence claims.
Court battles over allegedly defective products often end in settlement. The case could also go before a jury at trial, although no court date has been assigned.
On Tuesday, Seavey spoke publicly for the first time about the lawsuit. He pledged to donate any money he might receive in the case -- minus legal expenses -- to the Iditarod.
"I feel like I'm doing the right thing," he said.
Kai USA marketing and advertising manager Chris Brooks declined to talk at length about the case, referring questions to another company official.
Brooks said only that the blade used by Seavey “is a very, very safe knife.”
“Using it under those extreme conditions like that was probably not the best decision,” he said.
The accident came during a late-night stopover in Ophir where Seavey, a regular top 10 finisher, ranked among the frontrunners. All Iditarod racers who reach Nome win a paycheck, ranging from $50,400 to $1,049 in 2011.
The lawsuit asks for damages and lost wages because Seavey was forced to “discontinue what could have been a winning run of that race,” according to the complaint.
On Tuesday, Seavey said nothing short of a meteor would have stopped him from finishing the 2011 Iditarod. He is not claiming he would have placed first, he said.
“I had a really good team and it’s possible that I could have won the Iditarod, but I sure have not said and would not ever say … that I would have won the Iditarod,” Seavey said.
“It hurts me that people would think that I would come out against my good friend, (2011 Iditarod winner) John Baker and say that I would have beat him if this hadn’t happened,” he said.
Read the complaint here.
Read the knife maker's response, filed January in federal court, here.