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09 November 2016

How Technology Is Altering The Product Liability Landscape

In the world of product liability cases, it is critically important that each person involved in the lawsuit is properly identified. When there is a user injury, the manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer could all face lawsuits if the court determines that one or all of those parties are at fault. The problem is that was technology advances and 3D printing becomes more common in the consumer world. What this means is that determining product liability is not quite as
easy as it used to be.

The Many Facets Of Product Liability

A product liability case arises when there is a defect in the design of the product, the manufacturing of the product, or a failure to warn the public about potential dangers. Since product liability is a state issue, there are no generalized federal laws that are used to govern product liability cases. However, most states follow a common set of guidelines that make it easier to understand how liability works.Quality control sign

A defect in design occurs when the manufacturer approved design has a defect in it that can cause people harm. A defect in manufacturing occurs when the manufacturer does not follow that design and decides to do things a bit differently, or there is an error in the manufacturing process that does not follow the original design. The failure to warn consumers can either be the fault of the manufacturer, the wholesale distributor, or the retailer. It is based on the idea that there are known issues with the product that the public was not warned about.

A product liability lawsuit usually starts with the retailer. If the retailer can prove that it had nothing to do with the product defect that caused the injury, then the retailer may be taken off the case. In specialized areas such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, determining who gets sued is not always straightforward. If the plaintiff cannot determine who made the drug that caused them harm, then all of the companies that make that particular medication are held liable based on their percentage of the market share in the area where the plaintiff was injured.

How Do You Establish Negligence?

The laws in most states indicate that there has to be a direct transaction between the retailer and the accuser for a product liability case to take place. But that has changed, and now people who bought a product second-hand can sue if they are injured. However, most states are reluctant to allow a product liability case to be brought against a second-hand seller. For example, someone who sells a product at a garage sale that winds up injuring someone is not likely to be involved in a liability case. In that instance, the manufacturer would be completely negligent.

Establishing negligence in a product liability case is extremely important when it comes to determining who is going to get sued and what percentage each party will be responsible for. After decades of seeing a variety of cases in every state, it seemed like the legal system had product liability lawsuits down to a science. But when 3D printing started to be used all over the country in a consumer capacity, the product liability world had to start all over again.

When it comes to 3D printing, establishing negligence is extremely difficult. The idea that there is a definable manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, and the end user is not as concrete with 3D printing as it is with previous manufacturing methods. Is the software designer who created the software used to print a 3D item the manufacturer, or is it the end user who prints the item? If there is a defect in the product that causes an injury, it has to be established if the defect was created by the software, the printer, or the end user. All of these changes have made establishing negligence in a 3D printing case very difficult.

3D Printing Has Changed Everything In Liability

People use 3D printing to create a physical object. But when courts talk about the idea of “products,” it is difficult to determine exactly what the product is. It may seem obvious that the printed item is the product, but some courts have also insisted that the software used to create the object is actually the product. The essence of a product liability case is establishing what the defect was that caused the injury and how that defect was created. The 3D Printerprocess of 3D printing creates several options for both of those key questions, and the legal community is still grappling with how to decide which option is appropriate. For now, courts are handling these questions on a case by case basis, which can  confuse the situation a bit more.

The problem is not only in the physical product itself but also in how that product was created. For example, a company offering 3D printing software to allow dentists to print and install crowns in the same day may have developed their software for a certain type of printer in a particular type of environment. If a dentist decides to print a crown using that software without being in the optimum conditions, is the dentist at fault, the manufacturer of the printer, or the software designer?

Legal Proceedings In Light Of New Technology

Product liability laws regarding 3D printing are still extremely dynamic, but there are some precedents that judges and attorneys can follow. In the case of Buckley versus Align Tech, Inc., it was decided that the software designer was the manufacturer and should be treated as such in the product liability lawsuit.

By making the software designer the manufacturer, Align Tech, Inc. had the responsibility of warning the dentist of any issues involved in creating the customized products, and then the dentist would warn the patient upfront. This is a typical case of “failure to warn” from the manufacturer that put the weight of negligence on Align Tech, Inc.’s shoulders.

The legal world is still trying to figure out how product liability works when it comes to 3D printing and the products that are produced. In the meantime, it would be a good idea for product liability attorneys to keep up with this subject and be as informed as possible.