3-D Liability? New Printing Technology Means New Exposure

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As 3-D printing continues to grow in popularity, PL Matters wonders how this technology will impact the professional malpractice community. Now 3-D users may bring any virtual object to life by directing it to a specialized printer that prints in layers of rubber, plastic, paper or other materials. Once cost-prohibitive and mainly utilized by the medical field (to create prosthetics), the machines are now available to the public for personal and commercial use. But as the machines are more readily available, what happens when the end-product causes harm or injury?

According to the Harvard Business Review, 3-D Printing “will change the world.” Goods will now be manufactured at or close to the time of purchase. Products will be produced in the home or office as opposed to at an offsite factory. Even if the production cost of goods may increase, the end-user presumably could save on storage, shipping, packaging, handling and supply chain management costs. The implications of this technology are far-reaching.

But let’s get back to the point when something goes wrong. What happens when the end-product is considered defective? What happens when users design and print guns – reportedly the first bullet was recently fired from a printed gun – or other weapons? What happens when a product designed by a professional causes harm to a print-at-home customer?

Frankly, we don’t know the answers yet. Time will tell how the courts and lawmakers handle this technology. Nevertheless, as its popularity increases, the liability implications will become more apparent. Insurers and design professionals should be aware of the potential liability risks associated with 3-D Printing technology and should be prepared to adapt as the law begins to develop in this field.