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KBA Presents – Emerging Technology Series: 3D Printing

  • May 25, 2018
  • KBA Attorneys
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At KBA, first and foremost, we stand by the consumer. One of our many strengths is defending those that have been wronged by consumer products and holding accountable those responsible.

We are product liability lawyers and product liability lawyers like us investigate situations where someone is injured while using, or because of, a product or device. To bring closure and compensation to our clients, we then sue the companies or parties that designed, manufactured, marketed or sold the product..

The attorneys at KBA have handled cases involving many different kinds of products, everything from consumer classics like lawnmowers to seemingly futuristic medical enhancements. Despite fighting for those that may have been injured by developing technology, we are passionate about modern science and technology ourselves. Some of us here even express those nerdy passions with extensive comic book and science fiction collections. In turn, because of its complex interrelationship between the law, science, and medicine, we are also very passionate about this area of law.

Emerging Technology

The last few decades have seen rapid scientific and technological advancements unlike any before, and in turn, product liability law is being tested like it never has before.

Autonomous cars, personal and commercial drones, 3D printing, space travel, smart home devices, and artificial intelligence present enormous opportunities for society, but also significant risks to consumers. Recently, the public has grown aware of what can happen to the personal data and information we willing place and share online, even with “friends,” during Facebook’s massive Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this here.

Some of the technological advancements we mentioned before may seem like they are years away or even like science fiction but we assure you, these things are going to be as commonplace as the lawnmower sooner than some may care to admit.

Accordingly, we have been studying emerging technology and how the law can address situations when things go awry, from data breaches to personal injuries. In this series, we hope to explore various technologies, discuss how you may be affected and how our firm is available to help when it does.

3D Printing

3D printing has been around for a while, but its presence and use has exploded in recent years. Used as a way to quickly manufacturing replacement parts or even entire projects, everyone from home builders to the medical community have found 3D printing an indispensable technology. If every industry is seemingly making use of this technology, what is it exactly?

A 3D printer is an almost perfect union between computer software and manufacturing hardware. You can design something on a computer using special software, or use predesigned three-dimensional objects from an electronic data source like Additive Manufacturing Files; then a computer guides the machine and prints a physical form.

When I see these machines, they remind me of my family’s history of technology and innovation. My great-great-great-grandfather was a printer. He ran a company called, Browne Bros., and published several newspapers, the Richmond County Democrat and the Richmond County Herald. At the time, Browne Bros. ran the only steam job printing in the country – a technological breakthrough for the time.

To paraphrase a well-known saying, “as much as things change, in many ways, they stay the same.” So many products today are made with 3D printers, and while this technology is still novel, it presents fundamentally the same issues product liability experts have been dealing since the time of my great-great-great grandfather. These printers, though touted as safe and responsible, could turn out to be harmful to you or your family.

Product liability law sets forth principles and standards to determine fault and assign responsibility when someone is injured, in any way, from a consumer product.

  • These printers could be using chemicals and materials that may be dangerous for human beings or the environment, is it the printer or the chemical supplier fault?
  • The products that a 3D printer produces are sold to consumers who may be injured due to improper production techniques or even by using the products in the first place, who is at fault then?
  • The very mechanical nature of these devices presents the risk of injury to a person or persons involved in the production, don’t they deserve protection from wrongful product injuries as well?

In all these situations, lawyers like us are asked to help determine who is responsible for the injury and to do that; we have to ask all of the tough questions. Was it the company whose coder designed the software the controlled the robot, if you will, that printed the product? Was it the company where the concept was created? Who selected the material that failed? Who was responsible for premarket testing? Were alternative designs available that would prevent injury when working with the machine and did it have adequate instructions and warnings?

Our courts allow people injured by products to bring lawsuits asserting several different types of legal claims. The most straightforward lawsuit claim is negligence. As an example, we would ask, did the company who designed the 3D printer fail to take reasonable steps to prevent injury or did it design the printer in such a way that it introduced an unreasonable risk of injury? If so, was that misconduct or omission the cause of the injury? Maybe the 3D printer itself had a lot of accessible, maybe even shiny, moving parts that could attract the attention of children tempting them to stick their little fingers inside, and the manufacturer failed to include a cost-effective guard to keep those hands out. Maybe they failed to warn of the risks to parents and librarians or provide adequate instructions to keep small children away from the operating machinery.

From a different perspective, the products 3D printers make might not be of the strength and durability that consumers reasonably expect from products they purchase. Results from accidental injuries when a product breaks or otherwise fails when used under normal circumstances are a grave concern. Maybe the product involves the use of chemicals or other materials in new ways, in new combinations, or under new conditions; was the consumer aware of these potential risks?

Has The Law Kept Up with Emerging Technology?

With novelty sometimes comes risk. We expect companies to assess and to control those risks as well as continually monitor for new ones that may emerge. There are well-developed, long-standing industry standards that companies should follow to be sure people are protected from unnecessary risks.

Thus, product liability attorneys like us investigate whether the companies involved had a duty to respond to those risks or not and whether those failures or breaches caused the injuries in question. When we believe there is a viable claim, we can attempt to settle and file lawsuits to recover past medical expenses, money for future medical treatment that is needed, past and future lost earnings as well as non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Product liability law also allows injured people to hold companies accountable based on strict product liability theories. In short, these claims focus less on the company’s conduct and more on the nature of the product.

We have a particular interest in how the future of 3D printing might impact the healthcare industry. The attorneys at KBA have worked for decades with drug and medical device cases, litigating against sizeable multibillion-dollar companies and in our experience tells us that our knowledge of product liability will be applied to 3D printed products in the future.

In August, the FDA approved a drug that involves 3D printing, SPRITAM which treats patients suffering from epileptic seizures. We are not aware of any issue with this product as of yet; we are merely noting it as an example of the infiltration of 3D printing technology into our society. Honestly, our hope is there are fewer cases of products harming people, and we also recognize that not every injury from a product is legally actionable. The law allows for a reasonable room for error because everyone does make mistakes, ourselves included.

However, our experience has shown that there is always a handful of individuals at a few companies that sometimes rush products to the market without sufficient testing to identify potential hazards and assure controls have been in place – like instructions, warnings, or safety guards – to help protect people from harm. 3D printing is already a multi-billion dollar industry with many companies involved in manufacturing the printers as well as the printed products. It is therefore inevitable that issues are going to arise, and when they do, the attorneys at KBA will be there to help, with the same professionalism and commitment we have applied to our other clients throughout our 30 years of collective experience. Contact us today.