Is an engineer personally liable for injuries resulting from services or a device s/he helps to develop?
The answer is "Yes" or (a) I wouldn't be writing this article, and (b) you wouldn't be reading it.
The basis of this liability is the engineer's duty to the public to be professionally and socially responsible.
One example of how this duty arises is from the ownership responsibilities of intellectual property right. These responsibilities include legal liability for harm to others. Part I of this series is about types of intellectual property important to engineers and engineering liability.
Biomedical engineers design medical devices often used under conditions which are inherently dangerous to third parties (patients). Since the users of medical devices are physicians, design criteria, including safety features, are substantially influenced by non-engineers who are supposed to be expert in the use of the device. As a result, the safety of medical devices as well as their safe use is not entirely in the hands of the engineers who create them. For these reasons, the relationship between the usefulness of a medical device and how safe it is to patients is legally very important to biomedical engineers. Should a biomedical engineer create a medical device that is more dangerous to the patient but more convenient to the physician-user? Should the engineer accept the word of the expert user that user convenience makes up for the less safe design, and thereby actually makes the device safer for the patient? Of should the engineer limit safety considerations to his own professional knowledge and judgment about hardware safety, and require the physician to adapt to the device the engineer considers safe? In other words, if airline pilots insisted that fewer gauges in the cockpit would be more convenient and are therefore safer for passengers, should engineers build airplanes that way? Or, if anesthesiologists insisted that anesthesiology machines be built without gauges to monitor potentially lethal outflow gasses, should biomedical engineers build anesthesiology machines that way?
Next - What is Intellectual Property?
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