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The advances in 3D printing technology are creating a legal gray space for product liability. Generally, when a person is injured due to a defective product, or failure to warn, the manufacturer, designer, and/or the company that put the product into the marketplace can be found liable for the injury. But 3D printed objects don't exactly fit the current legal framework.
At first blush, one might think that the person who provides the design is going to be liable. However, the first question that arises is whether the design was compatible with the type of printer used. Then, it needs to be asked whether the printer caused the defect. Then, you need to find out whether it was the materials used in the printer that caused the defect.
Also, because 3D printed items require a user to print the design, you need to factor in user error and the ever elusive failure to warn on the part of designer, manufacturer, retailer, and component makers. Clearly, there are many considerations that make finding out who is liable much more difficult than one might initially think.
3D Printed Objects Purchased From a Business
If you purchase a 3D printed object from a retail business, then the business that sells the product can be held liable just like they could for any other product sold. However, that business can bring in other parties who may also be liable, such as a wholesaler or designer of the product, the manufacturer of the printer, as well as potentially the manufacturer of the printer's "ink."
While the law surrounding liability for 3D printed products has not caught up to the technology, the same framework for any other type of product liability action provides guidance as to who can and should be held liable.
3D Printed Objects Printed at Home
If you are injured due to a 3D printed object you designed and printed in your own home, then your claims will be against the manufacturer of the printer and its "ink," as well as potentially against the retail store where you purchased the printer or "ink." It may be especially difficult to prove fault in this type of case.
For your case to have merit, you will have to prove that the printer or materials were defective or dangerously designed, and as a result of those defects, the product you manufactured caused injury. You may be able to show this by having the same product, that you designed, printed on a different machine and/or using different materials. Also, you will have to overcome the defense claiming user error.
The law is constantly struggling to keep up with new technological developments. While new products may be easier to manufacturer than ever before, getting a new law passed or an old law changed still takes time and legislative action.