Everyone has heard the story about the man who used a 3D printer to make a gun that would make it past TSA. 3D printers have become a part of the modern world. They have been used in the medical field to create custom orthotics; they are an integral part of any modern design process; and some people even give them to their children as a fun toy. 3D printing manufacturers have experienced a great deal of litigation directed against them. But do 3D printers have a productive place in the courtroom?
Some attorneys think that 3D printers can do a great deal of good during litigation. Fennemore Craig, the second-largest firm in Arizona, has started to use 3D printers in their litigation practice. This firm, which has also used Google Glass in litigation to show the jury exactly what personal injury plaintiffs go through daily, says that using 3D printing has given them several distinct advantages. First, the use of the 3D printers has forced the firm’s attorneys to start thinking about overall trial strategy before litigation has even started, and thus have a considerable leg-up on the opposing party. Second, every writing instructor will tell you that it’s better to show rather than to tell. The ability to show a jury or an opposing attorney exactly what the widget was supposed to look like is much more powerful than just telling him or her that it was defective. Third, using a 3D printer has been shown to induce settlement, which saves clients time and money as well as enhances judicial economy.
However, there are some significant downsides to the use of 3D printing as a litigation tool. First, it is expensive. While the raw materials themselves might not cost too much, firms aspiring to use 3D printing would have to hire a team of experts to design the evidence, then they would have to create a Computer-aided design (CAD) file in order to translate the design into something the 3D printer could understand. They would also have to buy or rent a 3D printer – and those are still not cheap. The result is a lot of up-front expense that would add to trial costs if the case were to proceed past the settlement stage. Additionally, as with any new innovative trial strategy, there are concerns with admissibility. In Pennsylvania, a defendant successfully argued that using a computer animation of a shooting was inadmissible evidence because it was unfairly prejudicial and far too expensive. While an animation is not a 3D printed model, the two forms have similarities that would make it easy to question the admissibility of a 3D printed model – they are technologically novel; they are somewhat flashy to a jury; and they are expensive. Moreover, there is definitely a question as to why a firm would need to create a model in the first place; in a products liability case, it is possible that the product in question still exists. Plus, using a 3D printed model could cause a jury to focus more on the MODEL and less on the FACTS of the case. This could be prejudicial to a plaintiff’s case rather than helpful.
Though it has its downsides, 3D printing is now a fixture of modern life, and it seems like it could now play a part in litigation. Fennemore Craig has used 3D printing to help their clients in a real way. Using 3D printing, and other innovative technology, in litigation is definitely worth considering, as long as litigators are careful to minimize the potential downsides. Who knows, innovations could make a real difference!