3-D printing defects: Who would be liable?

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In a young industry experiencing fast growth, that very growth can push innovation too quickly while ignoring safety concerns. The use of 3-D printing has gone from “something of the future” to ubiquitous presence in a number of industries.

A prediction that by 2020 China will have bought 15 to 20 billion of them shows the potential scope. They are and will increasingly be used to print guns, medical devices and tissues used in medical treatments. What if something goes wrong and a printer produces a defective part?


Manufacturer using the 3-D printer or the maker of the 3-D printer

Engineers in the Netherlands recently used a 3-D printer to construct a bicycle bridge out of cement. Plastics and steel production could soon involve 3-D printing.

As these new processes are developed, technicians may not always set up the printer properly or a software glitch could affect output. A discount chemical or cheaper input could put the final product at risk. Research continues on how to reduce defects in the actual additive manufacturing process. For instance, splatter can cause contamination and affect the quality of a layer. This type of flaw could affect the strength or ductability of a part.

Any of these issues could affect the safety of a final product. As in any products liability case, finding the cause of the issue can be the initial problem. Then an analysis of whether negligence or a reckless disregard created the issue follows.

With 3-D printing, a maker of the printer itself might be liable if the software that went into the machine did not go through rigorous testing to remove design flaws. The manufacturer of one-of-a-kind product might face liability if its choice of material created the defect.

Who regulates this emerging industry?

Right now, regulations and consistent standards are lacking. When a product causes serious injury, it is crucial to find out if a design flaw or manufacturing defect was to blame. Because of the complex liability issues, it is important to speak with an attorney who has the experience and resources to get to bottom of what happened and fight for fair compensation on your behalf.

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