In a potential game changer, a California appeals court found that Amzazon.com LLC is liable for a defective product, a battery, that it sold through its website. In products liability law, a manufacturer is liable if it designs, manufacturers, or markets a defective product which cause harm to a user. In addition, distributors, and brick-and-mortar retailers can also be found liable if they sold the defective product.
The new ruling, reported in Law360, holds that the online retailer should be treated just like a brick-and-mortar retailer – which means since it places goods in the stream of distribution, the online retailer should be held liable if the defective products it sells injures or kill someone. The appellate court decision reverses a lower court decision which ruled for Amazon.
The case may be a game changer as Amazon is a leading platform for selling merchandise online.
The reasoning in the court’s opinion
The appeals court reasoned that Amazon’s website wasn’t just a business conduit for the battery distributor. In the case at issue, the user wouldn’t have used the battery without Amazon’s direct conduct.
The woman who filed the case claimed that she bought a replacement battery for her laptop from Lenoge Technology Ltd. through Amazon. The woman claimed that she suffered severe burns when the battery exploded several months after she bought it.
A default judgment was entered against Lenoge. The lower court ruled that that Amazon couldn’t be found liable because it wasn’t the actual seller of the product. The appellate court said that Amazon di d more than just provide Lenoge with a platform to sell its product. Amazon took physical possession of the battery and stored the battery in its warehouse. Amazon shipped the product in “Amazon” packaging and took the money that the woman paid.
Amazon also precluded Lenoge from contacting buyers, without Amazon’s consent. Amazon demanded Lenoge indemnify Amazon for each purchase and that Lenoge pay Amazon fees for the purchase.
The appellate court panel wrote that Amazon had placed itself in the vertical chain of distribution by exerting control over the battery sale. The court reasoned that Amazon made the decision to offer the product, to store the product, to accept the order, and to ship the battery for its own commercial reasons. With the benefit of controlling these decisions, comes the duty to share in the responsibility if the product is defective. The court also considered that Amazon may be the only viable defendant since the other named defendants, including Lenoge, were based in China.
Further, Amazon was in a position to ensure the safety of the battery by monitoring consumer complaints and pulling unsafe products from its website – as it has already done with the Lenoge batteries. Amazon could also protect itself through the indemnity agreements with the traditional sellers.
At Gainsberg Law P.C., Chicago product liability lawyer Neal S. Gainsberg works with product safety professionals to show that products which injured or killed someone were defective. He keeps current with new court cases and arguments to hold all responsible parties accountable. If you were injured or a loved one was killed because a product (such as a car part, a drug, a toy, or a consumer product) malfunctioned in any way, we’re here to help. Call us at 312.600.9585 or fill out our contact form to make an appointment.