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The online mega retailer Amazon sells just about anything we could ever want, either directly or through third-party sellers. Currently, there are 126 million Amazon Prime subscribers in the U.S., and last year there were reportedly a billion packages mailed. So when a third-party retailer sells a dangerous product on their website and hurts the customer, is Amazon liable?
A San Diego-based lawyer is spearheading the movement to make that answer a resounding yes. Last year, he secured a precedent-setting decision in a case surrounding a defective laptop battery made in China that resulted in his client having third degree burn injuries after the device exploded on her. Though Amazon had defeated similar arguments various times previously, an appeals court sided with the victim and ruled that Amazon can be held strictly liable for defective products purchased through its online marketplace. This marked the first time any state appellate court had ruled against Amazon on this issue.
This case is one of many currently working to hold Amazon accountable for the safety of the products sold on its site. The lawyers shared with The Milestone Press several updates that could have a huge impact on the future of this legal issue regarding not only Amazon, but also other online retailers.
The lawyer wrote that the two key appeals poised to further define the boundaries of Amazon’s — and by extension, other online marketplaces’— liability for dangerous products are: Loomis v. Amazon.com (pending in Division Eight of the Seconds district of the California Court of Appeal), and Macmillan v. Amazon (pending in the Supreme Court of Texas).
The first involves burn injuries and a house fire started by a defective hoverboard purchased on Amazon. It is the natural successor to last year’s landmark Bolger case from a different district of the California Court of Appeal. Though Loomis raises many of the same issues as Bolger, the main difference is that the hoverboard in Loomis was not Fulfilled by Amazon (“FBA”). This means Amazon never had possession of the hoverboard. Instead, it was shipped directly from the third-party supplier who listed it on Amazon’s website.
In this case, the plaintiff argues that this does not matter, and that under California law Amazon is still strictly liable for the damages caused by the defective hoverboard. Amazon, on the other hand, argues it was not the seller of the hoverboard and that Bolger was wrongly decided.
In the second case, a young child was injured after swallowing the batteries of a defective remote that was purchased on Amazon. The company moved for summary judgment in a Texas federal district court on the ground that it was not the seller of the remote and lost, and then appealed the issue to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth circuit then certified the question to the Texas Supreme Court, where the case currently sits.
McMillan, which also involves FBA, is important because it is one of the few cases that Amazon lost at the trial court level, the aforementioned lawyer explained. If the decision is upheld by the Texas Supreme Court, it would be one of the first appellate level decisions outside California to hold Amazon liable for defective products listed on its website. This would be an important advancement for consumer protection in the entire country.