Recently on this blog, we noted that several parties may be held liable after a consumer is injured due to a defective product. Often, injured parties file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the product. For instance, if the person was injured due to defective brakes in their car, they might pursue action against the carmaker.
In today’s global marketplace, consumer products can come from all over the world, using parts supplied by different designers and manufacturers, and sold through a long series of wholesalers and retailers. Because liability can attach at many points along this chain of commerce, product liability law provides the injured many options and chances to recover compensation for their damages.
That said, there has been one big name that has so far largely escaped liability for its part in the selling of defective products: Amazon. While the law is clear that the e-commerce colossus is responsible for the goods that it sells directly from its website, Amazon has long claimed that it should not be held liable for damages when consumers are injured by defective products that were sold through Amazon by third-party sellers.
Sales by third-party vendors account for more than half of all sales on Amazon. Businesses sold about $150 billion in goods through Amazon in 2018. The company’s policy claims that it holds no responsibility for these goods, and instructs injured consumers to pursue legal action against third parties under state law. For instance, an Arizona resident who used Amazon to buy an electric scooter from a third-party vendor, and was injured when the product caught fire, would not be able to hold Amazon liable.
Until recently, courts have mostly upheld Amazon’s argument. However, a growing number of cases in different states show courts may be losing patience with the online retailer. In a much-discussed case last year, a three-judge panel of a federal court held that Amazon should be held liable for injuries suffered by a woman who was partially blinded when a retractable dog leash malfunctioned and snapped back into her face. She had purchased the leash on Amazon from a third party, but was unable to locate the manufacturer.
It’s too early to say whether this case will hold up to appeals and other challenges, or whether it will set precedent nationwide. People who have been injured by a defective product should speak with a personal injury attorney about all their options for pursuing compensation.