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Ease of 3-D printing presents liability questions for hospitals

There's no question, 3-D printing is an amazing technology. If you can imagine it, you can program these devices to create it. Just a few years ago, few people had even heard of the process. Today, in Ohio, there are a number of companies that offer printers or printing services. Using them is so easy that even grade-schoolers are creating prototype artificial limbs.

It should be no surprise, then, that doctors and hospitals are taking an interest in the technology to print customized prosthetics for patients or create specialized tools for medical procedures. The possibilities are endless, but as attorneys experienced in product liability defense know, the opportunities also present risks for product liability claims if patients suffer injury.

Understanding current law

The basic tenets of product liability law typically hold that if a person is injured due to a defective product, the manufacturer who made and sold that product can be held strictly liable. However, many observers agree the legal landscape as it relates to use of 3-D printing by doctors and hospitals is less clear.

Typically, the technology isn't being used for mass production of medical supplies. The output is usually a one-off item related to the delivery of unique medical services. As such, strict product liability may not attach. However, if systems develop to a point where devices are generated in bulk and sold, it is possible that doctors and hospitals could be open to personal injury or death claims resulting from injuries.

Negligence

While shielded from strict liability, it might be possible for injuries or deaths caused by 3-D printed products to spark suits under a theory of negligence or fault. But the burden of proof in such cases is on the plaintiff and many observers agree that would be a high hurdle to clear at this point in time.

This bodes well for hospitals and doctors right now, but the law is dynamic and can change quickly. Where questions over potential liability exist, it's important to seek the counsel of a skilled attorney to be sure rights, responsibilities and risks are understood.

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