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Determining liability in 3D printed products

While all the potential applications of 3D printed products are sure to intrigue residents of Nashville and other cities all over the nation, injuries incurred while using these products bring to mind a number of important liability issues. As this burgeoning technology becomes more and more commonplace, consumers want to know just who will be to blame in the event of injury-causing defects in 3D products.

Inside Counsel reports on the potential chain of events that could occur once 3D printing becomes more widely used. Unlike standard manufacturing processes, 3D printing is typically far more complicated; one group creates a design and sells it to a customer. The customer then takes the design to a 3D printing company before selling it to a third party, at which point an injury occurs. Determining just who is liable for that customer’s subsequent injury can prove challenging, especially when manufacturers and sellers are situated in different countries.

Existing laws offer little clarification into liability issues. For instance, the seller in the above scenario will most likely not be liable for damages incurred when using the product (unless they are considered a commercial distributor or seller). Neither will the company that printed the product, nor the manufacturer of the 3D printer. Holding the original designer accountable may also be difficult due to the legal definition of a product (which is defined as tangible personal property). Accordingly, creation of a design file is more in line with a service than product.

In addition to determining liability of potentially hazardous 3D printed products, it may be necessary to establish liability in harm caused by 3D printers themselves. Huffington Post reports on these potential dangers, citing a recent study that investigated emissions levels from desktop 3D printers available for commercial use. This study found that 3D printers emit airborne particles that are comparable in toxicity to cigarette smoke inside one’s home, which raises the question of manufacturer responsibility should a user develop a medical condition as a result. 

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