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3D printing creating new legal issues in liability cases

Product liability is going to change in the digital age, because 3D printers and other technology are making it harder to identify who the true manufacturer and developer of a product is. In a traditional product liability case, there are three kinds of claims. These include the failure-to-warn, manufacturing defects and design defects. These may still apply, but identifying who it is you need to sue could be more difficult.

With a design defect claim, you're claiming that the original design of a product was unsafe. With a manufacturing defect, you're alleging that the manufacturer of the product deviated from design specifications leading to a defect. Finally, a failure-to-warn claim states that the manufacturers should have adequately warned consumers about the potential for harm but did not do so.

Product liability laws differ from place to place, and the rise of additive manufacturing has created a true problem. With the AM process, individuals at home use computers to manufacture and print three-dimensional products by using computer-aided design files. These CAD files have an original form that the manufacturer of the 3D printer provides, but they can be altered by the user as well.

If someone is hurt by something printed on one of these printers, that person is going to have to prove who is responsible for the injuries by determining which part of the process is at fault. It could be the second party that used the printer to print a new file, a problem caused by the printer due to manufacturing errors or even something wrong with the original design specifications.

Source: Inside Counsel, "Products Liability in the Digital Age: Legal Issues Generated by Additive Manufacturing," David L. Ferrera, Robyn S. Maguire, Valerie Imparato, Oct. 17, 2016

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