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Who is liable for serious injuries from a 3D printed object?

As many New Jersey residents may already know, three-dimensional (3D) printing is a relatively recent and revolutionary manufacturing method of making objects using a computer printer. Depending on the material used and the plans of the item to be printed, a "self-manufactured" item may be the wave of the future. With the ability to duplicate items possibly based on current products, certain dangers may arise. The question of who is responsible if serious injuries occur from a 3D printed object needs to be considered.

New 3D printers can make virtually any digital model into a solid three-dimensional object. Items from architectural models to a working handgun have been reproduced using 3D printing. Although the technology has been around since the late 1980's, it was not until 2010 that it became more widely used in mainstream commercial arenas. The notion of replicating a current manufactured item might sound great and futuristic.

Current commercial manufactures are regulated and held liable if any injury or death comes from the use of defective materials or products. The problem is if a person down the street with a 3D printer makes a small appliance and an injury occurs, who is responsible? The person who printed the item, the company that made the printer or the owner of the plans used might all bear some liability. According to a Stanford law professor, under current law, the only way to file a claim would be with a negligence-based lawsuit.

The main hurdle with a negligence case is that it focuses on proving that any or all parties involved were careless in some manner. This may include the manufacturer, distributor or seller of the product. As more 3D products find their way into the hands of New Jersey residents, serious injuries could occur, testing the boundaries of current products liability law. Keeping abreast of how courts will deal with this issue could be worthwhile. Thankfully, for now at least, pursuing civil claims involving personal injury and product liability is generally much more straightforward.

Source: engineering.com, 3D Printing Could Lead to Product Liability Issues, Kyle Maxey, Dec. 17, 2013

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