The 3D printing process entails building solid, three-dimensional objects from digital models, using an additive process in which successive layers of material are assembled on top of one another to build a product. As 3D printing becomes more commonplace, it presents several liability questions for those injured by these products and devices.
But when a doctor or hospital prints the device at their own facility, who is liable for any injuries caused by that device? As of right now, applying product liability principals to doctors and hospitals printing their own custom 3D medical devices may be difficult.
In strict liability cases, the manufacturer is responsible for product defects no matter who was at fault. Since doctors and hospitals are considered consumers or users of a product, and not manufacturers, they are shielded from being held strictly liable.
The following are the legal options for pursuing a lawsuit against doctors or hospitals who print defective 3D medical devices:
- Negligence – Injuries caused by defective devices printed by doctors and hospitals are subject to a simple negligent cause of action. However, negligence is a fault-based doctrine and harder to prove compared to strict liability. Victims must present evidence to prove breach of duty, causation, and damages. The help of an expert witness can be difficult since 3D printing technology is at its early stages of development.
- Malpractice claims – If a doctor or hospital recommends or supervises the use of a defective 3D product, patients injured by the health care provider may file a medical malpractice claim. Whether there is evidence of improper training for the use of the device, when a procedure is performed incorrectly using a 3D product, or there is a failure to inform the risks associated with the 3D product can be handled through a medical malpractice claim.