Is Amazon Liable for Defective Products?

In 2017, e-commerce represented 13% of total retail sales. Consumers spent $453.46 billion on online retail purchases, up 16% from 2016. Amazon is by far the most prominent online retailer, accounting for 44% of last year’s e-commerce sales in the U.S.

Sites like Amazon have made it possible to purchase a plethora of items without ever having to step inside a brick and mortar store. The convenience and affordability of this option has increased the popularity of online shopping, and has even contributed to the closure of some traditional stores, such as Toys R Us. But convenience comes with a price. With the rise of online shopping comes uncertainty regarding product liability. If you purchase a product from an online store, who might be liable if you are injured by that product?

Looking at Amazon as the example, we have seen numerous cases in which plaintiffs have sued the online retailer for product liability. Most recently, State Farm sued Amazon over a defective vape battery sold on its site. The battery caught fire and caused more than $400,000 of damage to the home of one of State Farm’s policyholders. The insurance company is now attempting to recoup that cost, claiming that Amazon is liable because it sold the defective product. If past lawsuits involving Amazon’s liability for products sold on its website are any indicator, it does not seem likely that Amazon will be found liable.

Amazon not Liable for Products Sold by Third Party

In 2016, Charles and Megan Fox’s house burned down after a hoverboard, which was purchased on Amazon, spontaneously exploded. According to the plaintiff, Amazon failed to warn consumers about dangers they knew existed with the hoverboards. But the judge sided with Amazon and dismissed the case, stating that Amazon was used by an outside merchant to list the hoverboard, and had therefore not violated any product liability laws. Since another company had manufactured and sold the hoverboard, Amazon was not responsible for damages caused by the defective products.

Well then, should the plaintiffs in these cases go after the merchant that is using Amazon as a platform to sell their products? That would certainly be an option; however, in some cases it is not a viable one. Heather Oberdorf was partially blinded in 2015 after a retractable dog leash she purchased on Amazon snapped backward and struck her face. The third-party seller, The Furry Gang, was operating under the name Dogaholics on Amazon. Oberdorf attempted to get in touch with a representative of the company, but there was none to be found. She sued Amazon for damages, but the case was dismissed. The Pennsylvania judge compared Amazon to a newspaper classified ad section, and stated that the company could not be held liable under strict products liability. Oberdorf’s attorney is appealing the case, stating that Amazon should be held to the same standard as brick and mortar stores like Walmart.

Is Amazon a “Seller” or Simply a Middleman?

So far, the courts have made it clear that Amazon’s role regarding products sold by a third party is not that of a seller, but closer to that of a newspaper classified section. Instead of a seller, the courts see the company as a medium connecting sellers to buyers. Moreover, Amazon has used the Communications Decency Act as part of its defense. The law protects online publishers from liability claims based on content that has been provided by a third party.

Since the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the subject of Amazon’s liability, it will be up to the judges considering individual cases whether Amazon can be considered a seller, and therefore liable for defective products sold through its site. So far, none of the four plaintiffs who have had their cases heard in court have successfully pinned product liability on Amazon. However, three of those cases—including Oberdorf’s dog leash case and the Fox’s hoverboard case—are currently before federal appellate courts. The decisions made in these cases will likely shape the future for Amazon product liability suits.

“Unless the courts change their stance on Amazon as a seller of goods, consumers should be wary of purchases made through this company and other similar websites. If the product purchased ends up being defective and harmful, it may be very difficult to obtain compensation for damages,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Palm Desert Accident Attorneys

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the California personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured by a defective product and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, El Centro, and Yucca Valley, and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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