A federal appellate court ruled recently against Amazon.com in a case that could potentially expose the ubiquitous online retailer to lawsuits from customers who purchase defective products from third-party vendors through its website. According to a Reuters news report, a number of other courts have held that Amazon cannot be held liable as a seller of products from third-party vendors. But, this new ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, reversed a lower court decision.
Third Party Vendors on Amazon.com
Amazon allows third-party vendors to list products for sale on its website in addition to selling its own inventory. Such sellers may store their products in Amazon’s warehouses or ship them directly to customers. Reuters reports that Amazon earned about $11 billion in revenue from services it provided to third-party sellers for the quarter ended in March. In fact, roughly half of the items sold on Amazon are from third-party vendors.
When it comes to liability for defective products, it’s generally governed by state law. The court decision as based on Pennsylvania law where the customer lives. Heather Oberdorf sued Amazon in 2016 saying she was blinded in one eye when a retractable dog leash she bought from Amazon and was sold by a third-party vendor, snapped and recoiled. It hit her in the face and severely injured her eye. The vendor, The Furry Gang, shipped the leash directly to Oberdorf from Nevada.
But Oberdorf and Amazon have not been able to locate a representative of the seller who has not been active on Amazon’s website for three years. The judge said Amazon might be liable in part because its business model enables third-party vendors to hide themselves from the customer, leaving those injured by defective products with no direct recourse to the vendor. The federal court has sent the case back to the lower court, which will now have to decide whether the leash was actually defective and caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
Product Liability Issues
Regardless of who sells defective products, they have the ability to cause significant injuries and damages. As product defect attorneys who represent the rights of injured victims, we agree with the federal judge that where consumers don’t have a way to contact the merchants from whom they purchased the defective products, they should be able to hold the online retailer who facilitated the sale. If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product sold on Amazon or any other online retailer, please contact an experienced product defect attorney who will fight for your rights and help you seek maximum compensation for your losses.