Large corporations such as Amazon have gotten around typical legal red tape and requirements for years by using a team of attorneys to craft very specific language and disclaimers. Examples of this are everywhere, from advertisements on television to the phrasing on the sites themselves, and when paired with a great amount of financial success and popularity, they could essentially pick and choose which rules applied to them. They are not the first or the only to use this trick — because it is legal, and it works. Likewise, Uber is clear to call their drivers “contractors” rather than “employees” because it means they do not need to accept accountability for them.
As with most things backed by greed, these loopholes end up hurting innocent people, and it is not by mistake. Amazon especially wants to avoid lawsuits by any means necessary, which means in even cases where they seem to obviously be at fault, they usually manage to find a way out of taking responsibility. With how many people rely on Amazon services for food, equipment, electronics, and anything else a person could buy, there are bound to be accidents. If and when those accidents are caused by defective or dangerous products, the victims deserve to be generously compensated for it, and for years it has been nearly impossible to do so.
Thankfully, that may have just changed, which means understanding product liability and how it works is more important now more than ever.
How Amazon’s new distributor status allows you to hold them accountable
The very specific phrasing that helps determine how a corporation is classed and treated usually involves just a few words. A specific designation, a conditional term, a disclaimer. With how complex business litigation can be, companies need to make sure they match it to the letter — which is why they usually have a large team of legal experts to do it for them. In Amazon’s case, they have been denying that they are distributors for years, because distributors are required to report, recall, and all-around moderate more than a standard third-party store.
A federal agency judge, however, just confirmed that Amazon is indeed a distributor, and is indeed required and responsible for reporting and assuring the safety of the products they sell. Anything dangerous or defective needs to be recalled, and every incident needs to be logged, and every seller needs to be vetted — amongst other things. This is fantastic news for consumers and terrible news for Amazon. Consumers can rest a bit easier now knowing Amazon has such a legal obligation to safety, and Amazon executives are realizing their customers can now hold them accountable for failing to uphold their duties. Now, Amazon is just as privy to product liability cases as any other company. A failure to report or recall is a possible criminal penalty, and at least a civil and financial penalty.
They may still make it as difficult as possible to pin them down, but they are out of words to hide behind.
What counts as a defective product?
The products we spend money on and use with our families should be trustworthy and as safe as possible. For items that include an inherent amount of danger, such as flammable space heaters or unwieldy machinery, they should come with clear warnings and instructions for its users. Not only is this expected, it is legally required. Manufacturers and distributors have a duty of care to their customers to ensure everything they sell is fit for intended, ordinary use and reasonably safe, and any time they fail in that duty, it makes the product in question defective. The three categories of defective products are:
- Design defects, where every product is made correctly but the template being used is dangerous.
- Manufacturing defect, which refers to something happening during the manufacturing or build process that compromises the product. Worker error, improper materials, and general poor quality assurance fall under this category.
- Failure to warn in a proper or adequate way, as all products must display clear and complete warnings about any reasonable, foreseeable hazards along with instructions and labels. A product only needs to miss one aspect to be considered defective, and for victims to have a case.
Sometimes accidents simply happen and there is no one at fault, but truly faultless (or truly user-only fault) incidents are not as common as corporations would like you to believe. That being said, do not underestimate a company like Amazon’s ability to wear you down and fight your claims, no matter how true or obvious they may seem or be.
To have a product liability case, you need to prove the injuries you have sustained are a direct result of the product in question, and you also need to prove you were using the product as intended. For example, even if it was unintentional, if you improperly use a space heater that results in a fire which burns you and your property, but the product clearly displays warnings and instructions to avoid those fires, you would not have a case. However, if you follow the listed instructions and it still results in a fire, something defective is obviously at play.
Even if you are unsure if you have a case, you should still reach out to an experienced Oklahoma City personal injury attorney to explore your options, especially if you have severe injuries and losses due to the accident. Stressing the difficulty of these cases is to implore you to find a professional to help, even if it never goes beyond an initial consultation. You do not have to settle. You do not have to move on with nothing.
At Cunningham & Mears, our experienced and tenacious Oklahoma City product liability attorneys know how to hold big manufacturers accountable, and we will be honest and transparent with you about what you may be entitled to. We are proud to help our clients recover the damages they deserve, no matter how long it takes or how hard the other side fights. To learn more, call us today at (405) 232-1212 or use our contact form.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More