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The concept of the traditional supply chain, with a designer, manufacturer, distributor and purchaser, forms the backbone of products liability law. But with the rise of 3-D printing, where a person may design and essentially manufacture a product in his or her garage, the traditional supply chain goes out the window, along with many basic notions about strict liability.
Few courts have dealt with the issue so far, but attorneys have started looking into the myriad complexities that will likely arise as 3-D printing begins to take hold. And with Pennsylvania recently affirming its reliance on the Restatement (Second) of Torts, the issues in the state may differ from other jurisdictions that rely on the Third Restatement or other products liability frameworks.
Examples of some of these questions range from things as mundane as an amateur bicyclist printing a bicycle part, to doctors using a 3-D printed model of a patient’s heart to practice a complex surgery.
“If there’s some type of failure [with the surgery] does that become a medical malpractice problem, or is it a problem where there are some products liability implications?” asked Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker products liability attorney H. Michael O’Brien.
While it is difficult to determine exactly how the issues will begin to play out in the courts, several attorneys said initial litigation over the technology will likely focus on the medical and auto parts industries.
With hospitals printing devices, body parts and even medication, doctors and hospital staff might soon be considered manufacturers potentially subject to strict liability claims, according to attorneys. The same might become the case with auto parts distributors who, instead of paying the overhead to warehouse thousands of parts, may choose to instead simply print the parts after manufacturers, or even customers, provide them with the design blueprints for the product.
“That’s where a lot of the more sophisticated things come in,” said Reed Smith attorney James Beck, who focuses on products liability law.
Some regulatory bodies have begun to touch on the issue, and one court ruling from California last year determined that the learned intermediary doctrine barred a proposed class action over a dental product that was 3-D printed. However, since so much remains unresolved, many attorneys are looking to products liability concepts when advising clients.
Pennsylvania, according to Beck, will follow Rule 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, while other jurisdictions will likely follow either the Third Restatement, or a state law. Beck said most jurisdictions follow Rule 402A.
The main difference between the jurisdictions, according to Beck, is that courts following Rule 402A will require a product seller to pursue strict liability claims, while the Third Restatement does not include a strict-seller requirement.
How these principles will apply when considering the chain of 3-D design files only increases the complications.
The machines that perform additive manufacturing, which is also known as 3-D printing, use “computer-aided design,” or CAD software as the blueprint for the product. These files can often be downloaded from the Internet, and many are created by amateur designers, or through an open-source platform, which entails numerous users uploading and tweaking the design.
Products liability attorney Mihai M. Vrasmasu of Shook, Hardy & Bacon said that, when dealing with companies that use 3-D printing, liability issues can generally be broken down to three categories: when a manufacturer buys or licenses a design that is used to print the product, when a manufacturer modifies that file before printing the product, and when a manufacturer designs the file.
Although the companies that create or manipulate the CAD files might be subject to more liability, some basic arguments can be applied to all three categories, Vrasmasu said.
At Maya Murphy, P.C., our personal injury attorneys are dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their family members and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury, whether caused by a motor vehicle or pedestrian accident, a slip and fall, medical malpractice, a defective product, or otherwise. Our attorneys are not afraid to aggressively pursue and litigate cases and have extensive experience litigating personal injury matters in both state and federal courts, and always with regard to the unique circumstances of our client and the injury he or she has sustained.
Source: The Legal Intelligencer