3D Printing and Its Uncertain Products Liability Landscape
Consider a fact pattern under which an auto parts manufacturer makes CAD files available to auto parts stores so that they may 3D print replacement auto parts on demand and on-site in response to customer needs. An auto parts store sells the 3D-printed part to a customer, who later is involved in an accident and blames the 3Dprinted part for causing the accident.
In this fact pattern, the injured consumer may have recourse against the auto parts manufacturer and the auto parts store, although the manufacturer and store are likely to have agreements with indemnification and liability provisions. The injured consumer may even have recourse against the company that manufactured the 3D printer if there is evidence that it malfunctioned in an unreasonable and unforeseeable way.
But now consider this fact pattern: A company in China uploads a CAD file for the 3D printing of a replacement auto part and offers it for sale; an individual in the United States purchases the CAD file and 3D prints the replacement auto part at a local store that prints from customer files; the individual then sells the 3D-printed auto part to another, who then is involved in a car accident and blames the 3D-printed part for causing it.
What recourse does the injured customer have under this fact pattern? Against whom? For what? Will U.S. law even apply? And where can a suit be filed? A consideration of these issues suggests the consumer will have few options under current U.S. law and suggests that there may be movement towards legislative change.
The Individual Who 3D-printed the Replacement Auto Part and Sold it to the Accident Victim
The accident victim may not be able to recover against the person who printed the auto part and from whom he purchased the part. That is because strict liability cannot apply unless the seller is a “commercial seller,” i.e., a person engaged in the business of selling products, like a manufacturer, distributor or retailer. It does not apply to an occasional seller, like someone who downloads 3D files, prints products for personal use and only occasionally sells a product. If the person who printed the auto part and sold it to the accident victim is a mere occasional seller, he will not be found liable in strict liability.
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