Dec.15, 2013

Stanford Scholar Nora Freeman Engstrom warns that in a world of 3D printing, people may not be protected under traditional product liability law. Rather, they could be left to pursue harder-to-prove negligence lawsuits.

Home 3-D printers are becoming affordable, and many more individuals will make products at home that are complex, sophisticated, or even dangerous. Over time, these hobbyist inventors will start selling some of the products they create, and those who purchase their creations will, unfortunately but inevitably, sustain injuries.

Nora Freeman Engstrom, an associate professor, published her research in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, in which she explores how 3-D printing is poised to challenge the American litigation landscape and what it means for consumer protection:

"Following any significant technological breakthrough," she wrote, "legal scholars, practitioners and policymakers must consider how the innovation meshes with – or poses challenges to – our existing laws and system of governance. Will it fit? What must change? Where are the pitfalls and opportunities? 3-D printing is no exception."

Under current "strict liability" product law, if a person gets ill from eating tainted food he purchased at Wal-Mart, he can sue the supermarket for the injuries. But if a person injured by a home-printed product, what will happen then? Engstrom said, "in many instances, no one will be strictly liable for these injuries under current product liability doctrine." And this person would "likely only be left with a negligence-based lawsuit."

Why is the legal treatment different for home-printed products? Injured by a 3-D-printed product, an individual would likely sue (1) the hobbyist inventor who created and sold the defective 3-D-printed product, (2) the manufacturer of the 3-D printer that "printed" the defective item, and/or (3) the "digital designer" who wrote the code that instructed the printer what to print.

Engstrom said strict product liability applies only to commercial sellers — those "engaged in the business of selling or otherwise distributing products." But casual vendors, such as a child or housewife who makes and sells contaminated jam, or hobbyist 3-D inventors, who print products in their garages, fall outside strict liability's scope.

And then the company that manufactured the 3D printer itself, Engstrom said, would be liable only that printer was itself defective. "And, it's not enough that the printer was defective at the time it printed the troublesome item—it must have been defective at the time it left the printer manufacturer's possession and control."

The third possible defendant is the digital designer - the programmer who wrote the code that was fed into the printer to create the product. "Code isn't a product." said Engstrom. "Strict liability law applies only to "products" - tangible personal property and code does not qualify.

But that doesn't mean when home 3-D printing really does take off, consumer won't be protected under any law. "The various obstacles I identify in the path of a plaintiff injured by a home-3D-printed object don't necessarily stand in the way of a plaintiff injured by a commercially-printed object," she told Stanford News. Rules could be gradually modified and continuously adjusted to changing social and economic conditions. She pointed out, It is also possible that, courts will impose liability by expansively applying the negligence standard, so "some plaintiffs injured by home-printed objects might actually prevail in "old-fashioned negligence" lawsuits".


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Dan wrote at 12/15/2013 9:59:38 PM:

Frankly speaking such reasonings are more similar to speculation on consumer psychology. People, who are going to use a difficult products framed by means of the three-dimensional press (we won't take such trifles as specialties or toys) will understand much better their products than the ordinary consumer, and they will have much more opportunities in providing the raised level of safety of these products as they will control almost completely process of production of these devices. Therefore it the risk a victim of economy of any automobile firm on brake shoes, for example, will threaten to fall to a lesser extent. It is clear that the author of the report concentrated only on risks, but you shouldn't forget and about those advantages which are "reverse side" of these "risks". And besides for certain shortly there will be enough of open production work over which will go collectively by the same principles on which at present development of the open software is conducted. So most likely open production framed for procreation on 3D printers will be better and more reliable, than proprietary products, thanks to efforts of the communities which were formed round their development.

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