3D printing is a fascinating process in which a three-dimensional model of an object on a screen can be transformed into a real-world object through the process of printing a layer at a time. Because the technology has matured to the point that there are affordable 3D printers, that means more people are using 3D printing both as a hobby and a business. The problem, however, is that when 3D printed products fail, it is tricky to assign product liability.
You are no doubt familiar with the concept of 2D printing, which transfers words or images from an app like a word processor or graphics package to paper via a printer using ink or a laser. 3D printing works from a similar process by which a three-dimensional object is programmed and created layer by layer. The type of material used depends heavily on the type of printer, with most home machines using plastic. However, professional-grade 3D printers can work with ceramics and metals as well. Also note that while some people may create their own 3D files, others download files from the internet and can modify them. It can be difficult to trace where a file originally came from and what modifications were made to it.
Quality of a 3D Printed Part
Just because you have a source file for printing a 3D object does not mean that the object you print will be what the original designer envisioned. There are quite a few variables involved in 3D printing even if you do not make any adjustments to the source file for the part:
- Material used for printing
- How many layers the object is sliced into
- Use of supports during the printing process
- Printing speed
- Printing temperature
- Condition of the printing nozzle
- Type of machine
Anyone who has tried to print an object using a 3D printer can also attest to the fact that there are quite a few things that can go wrong during the process. Successful 3D printing takes a combination of skill and practice, no matter how sophisticated a printer you may have invested in.
Defective Parts & 3D Printing Product Liability
Because there are so many variables involved with 3D printing, there are many different ways a printed part can be defective. Sources of defects can include:
- Defective design (e.g., the original design file had mistakes in it)
- Wrong use of material (e.g., the plastic used is not stiff enough or strong enough for the part’s intended use)
- Incorrect machine settings (e.g., speed, nozzle temperature)
- Part not used as intended (e.g., intended as a decorative part but used for load-bearing)
If you choose to print a part yourself and you want to make sure it works as intended, it is important to follow any instructions or guidelines for the part very closely. The correct material and compatible machine settings must be used in order to get the desired result.
3D Printing Product Liability Questions
If you are injured by a defective 3D printed part, you must be able to demonstrate who is at fault. One of the challenges of pursuing a product liability claim with respect to 3D printed parts lies in the complexity of determining this. Is the printer defective? Was the original source file a poor design? Did you use the wrong material for printing? Were the instructions incorrect or incomplete? Was the material itself defective? Did the creator fail to warn about unintended uses or the consequences of using a material other than the recommended one?
Any attempt to hold the original designer of the 3D model responsible may challenging if they point out that they had no control over the actual printing process. It can also be difficult to prove that the material itself was defective. Most people will try to go after the 3D printer manufacturer, but that would fall under strict liability which does not really apply to 3D printed parts because the printer manufacturer has no control over exactly what materials or settings you use.
If someone is injured by an improperly designed model, the creator of that 3D model could be held legally liable for damages. The theory of negligence can apply and hold the creator responsible for not warning others about potential issues with materials and usage. This is a common argument used to establish liability.
3D printing is an awesome technical innovation that can prove both fun and useful. The medical field is just one of many which is embracing this new technology. However, people can be injured by defective 3D printed parts. While it can be difficult to assign fault in such cases, it usually comes down to the original creator of the part and whether that person was negligent. And, let us not forget that it can sometimes be difficult to track down the original creators if they post their files anonymously online. Determining the best course of action to take when you have been injured by a 3D printed part requires the advice of a knowledgeable product liability attorney.
Contact Donaghue & Labrum
If you or a loved one has been injured by a 3D printed part, you contact the personal injury lawyers at Donaghue & Labrum to find out what your legal options are. Because in many ways the ability to 3D print parts at home is still new and the laws governing personal injury resulting from those parts are still being interpreted. Let us have an opportunity to aggressively represent you both in court and out. With decades of experience in personal injury practice, we will fight to get you the compensation you deserve.