Products Liability in the Digital Age: Liability of Commercial Sellers of CAD Files for Injuries Committed with a 3D Printed Gun

Products Liability in the Digital Age: Liability of Commercial Sellers of CAD Files for Injuries Committed with a 3D Printed Gun

68 Am. U. L. Rev. 2297 (2019).

* Senior Staff Member, American University Law Review, Volume 69; Editor-in-Chief, Health Law and Policy Brief, Volume 14; J.D. Candidate, May 2020, American University Washington College of Law; B.A., International Relations and Criminal Justice, magna cum laude, 2013, American University.  I would like to thank the American University Law Review staff for their diligent review and thoughtful suggestions in preparing this Comment for publication, and my faculty advisor, Professor David Hunter, for his invaluable guidance and feedback.  I would also like to thank my family and my husband, Jerome Ashley Sharpe, for their endless love, infinite patience, and unwavering support.

The invention of new technologies, and specifically 3D printing, is quickly changing how we shop, eat, and live.  For example, current technology already allows consumers to print a pair of shoes from the comfort of their living rooms instead of going to the mall, and parents can 3D-print custom-shaped chicken nuggets as an afternoon snack for their children. But, aside from the positive changes, 3D printing poses serious safety concerns because it allows for printing of plastic, untraceable, deadly weapons.

Whom will we hold liable when someone gets injured with a 3D-printed gun?  How will the courts apply existing law to address this novel challenge?  This Comment argues that courts should use traditional products liability laws to hold commercial sellers of CAD files liable for injuries caused by defects arising out of the design of their products.  Specifically, this Comment finds that CAD files are products for purposes of products liability.  It further finds that 3D-printed guns are inherently and unreasonably dangerous because they are undetectable by standard metal detectors; their users do not need to register or go through a background check before purchasing them; and because the public, including children and mentally ill persons, have unlimited access to them. Additionally, the designs of currently available CAD files do not incorporate a safety feature into the design of the firearm, making it more dangerous.  Commercial sellers can thus be held strictly liable for injuries caused by a gun printed with their CAD file.  In adapting traditional products liability law to 3D-printing technology, courts can encourage accountability for 3D-products designers who might otherwise escape liability for their defective designs and protect consumers from poorly designed CAD files.