When we purchase a product, be it online or in person, we have certain expectations. For example, we hope whatever it is works for its intended purpose, that it’s safe to use, and that — if something goes wrong — we can get some sort of compensation for it. These are reasonable demands. Besides, it’s not like you, the consumer, created them; corporate PR did. Buy this product, it says, and it will be worthwhile even if you don’t keep it.
However, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Not only because of a malfunction of some sort, but companies are notorious for doing everything possible to avoid taking responsibility despite the warm and fuzzy words in their commercials. Understanding how to navigate product liability and nail the party responsible can be the difference between a stressful — but ultimately rectified — situation and no help at all.
Tight-knit policies save the day — just not yours
Let’s take a look at Amazon. Almost everyone uses their services one way or another, and that probably includes buying something online from them. And why wouldn’t you? With competitive prices and fast shipping, it didn’t take long to overshadow more outdated sites like eBay in popularity. Alongside their ease of access, though, is a mountain of legal policy in place to make it notoriously near-impossible to hold them liable — even if it seems obvious.
For example, earlier this very month and right here in Illinois, a federal judge cleared Amazon of all liability and charges for a faulty hoverboard that caught on fire. Their reasoning is that Amazon, although the platform the hoverboard was purchased from, never actually handled the product in question, nor do they technically count as the “seller.” It still seems like a wild stretch, though. There are provisions in Illinois that can hold a party responsible despite being outside the chain of distribution, but the legal team behind Amazon was able to prevent those from mattering much at all.
Of course, the consumer’s insurance company fought back. Their home suffered extensive damage from this fire, and that is definitely not an advertised feature of the product in question. And yet, after months of a tough legal battle, Amazon won entirely.
How does this happen?
As previously stated, it all comes down to an unfortunate mix of company disclaimer policies and the law of the state involved. Amazon’s legalese for this sort of thing isn’t easy to find on their website. They make you work for it, but that’s the point. They want their customers to live in ignorance of these policies because, in doing so, they guarantee they won’t scare any away with some less-than-responsible rules. In this case, the section that got them off the hook for this reads as follows:
TO THE FULL EXTENT PERMISSIBLE BY LAW, AMAZON WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES OF ANY KIND ARISING FROM THE USE OF ANY AMAZON SERVICE, OR FROM ANY INFORMATION, CONTENT, MATERIALS, PRODUCTS (INCLUDING SOFTWARE) OR OTHER SERVICES INCLUDED ON OR OTHERWISE MADE AVAILABLE TO YOU THROUGH ANY AMAZON SERVICE, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, PUNITIVE, AND CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED IN WRITING.
That’s the first part of the mixture. Notice how it starts with “to the full extent permissible by law,” because that’s the one part of the statement that could allow for a loophole. However, at least here in Illinois, the state laws fill that gap right up:
In any product liability action brought against a manufacturer or product seller for harm allegedly caused by a failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions, a defendant manufacturer or product seller shall not be liable if, at the time the product left the control of the manufacturer, the knowledge of the danger that caused the harm was not reasonably available or obtainable in light of existing scientific, technical, or medical information.
In other words, because Amazon wasn’t technically the seller, and didn’t ever technically handle the defective product, they could not be expected to know that the product was faulty. Therefore, they are free of all liability in the state of Illinois.
Now – and this is very important – that does not mean the consumer is out of luck. It means they are out of luck with Amazon. If you were in their shoes, and this were your case, your next step would be for you and your attorney to find who CAN be held liable — AKA, the actual creator of the hoverboard, or of any other defective product you have a case against. The right product liability attorney would be able to find that party for you, and they would know how to cast the widest net possible to go after them.
So if you or a loved one purchased a product that ended up being dangerously defective, getting that representation is your first step. Here in Chicago, the skilled and experienced product liability attorneys of Gainsberg Law, P.C can be with you every step of the way, and will go after the responsible party with the tenacity your case deserves. To find out more, give us a call today at 312-600-9585 or fill out our contact form. You don’t need to accept a company’s refusal to take responsibility, and you don’t need to fight them alone.