Who Bears Liability for Injuries Caused by a Defective Product Purchased on Amazon?

Shopping on Amazon has become one of the most popular ways to review and purchase both essential and sometimes not-so-essential items. Almost everything is available on Amazon, and often at better prices than you can find at your local retail store. In addition, the fact that you can get your items delivered in 1 or 2 days with free shipping makes Amazon a highly attractive means of purchasing consumer goods. Amazon also makes it easy to return items.

However, what happens if a product you purchase through Amazon turns out to be unreasonably dangerous due to defective manufacture, design, instructions or warnings? Also, what if you or a loved one suffers an injury after using the defective product? Who bears liability for your injuries and losses? The answer to this question, up until very recently, has been “any other party except Amazon.” However, now that may be changing.

Amazon places the blame for defective products on the sellers

Amazon has asserted for quite some time that it serves only as an electronic platform that links buyers with third-party sellers. In this position, similar to Craigslist and eBay, Amazon avoids all liability for defective or dangerous products, making the actual seller liable for any resulting damages incurred. In its Conditions of Use, Amazon mentions “third-party sellers [that] sell products on the marketplace, and that those sellers, not Amazon, are responsible for the products.”

However, many consumers are not aware that Amazon is not actually the retailer of the products it ships to purchasers. Frontline reports that injuries and some deaths have resulted from a number of the products that buyers receive from Amazon.

  1. A man who purchased a motorcycle helmet that was not manufactured to federal safety standards lost his life when the helmet detached from his head during an accident. Amazon did not accept any responsibility for the death, but settled the case for $5,000.
  2. A third party sold a defective hoverboard to a Nashville family. The hoverboard caught fire. The family’s house burned down as a result, while the two children in the family escaped death by jumping out of a window. Per Frontline, “Court documents show Amazon had been aware the devices were catching fire, but an appeals court ruled the company was not the seller of the hoverboard under state product liability law. However, the court allowed the plaintiffs’ claim of negligence against Amazon to proceed to trial.”

The Pennsylvania case that may turn the tide of liability against Amazon

Historically, in these cases, the courts have favored Amazon. However, a Pennsylvania appeals court is currently reviewing whether Amazon should be held liable for the injuries of a woman who was left partially blind after being hit in the eye with a defective, retractable leash. When the plaintiff could not find the third-party seller, she filed a lawsuit against Amazon. How the Court rules could change everything for Amazon, forcing the company to finally accept liability and responsibility for the products people sell through their platform.

There are considerable complexities to many types of product liability lawsuits. This is particularly true when commerce and the growth of technology make existing laws inadequate to properly adjudicate a decision.

At Phelan Petty, our experienced Richmond defective product attorneys are well aware of the damage to individuals and families caused by defective products. If you have sustained injuries from a product you purchased on Amazon, we may be able to help. To set up a free case review, call us today at 804.980.7100 or use our contact form.