The popularity of online shopping has skyrocketed in recent years as a result of sites like Amazon. However, this convenience has also come with an unwanted price tag. With the increase in online shopping comes a level of uncertainty regarding product quality and product liability. The question posed here is: If you purchase a product from a website such as Amazon and you get hurt, can you bring a claim against them?

The answer appears, more often than not, to be “no.”

Amazon’s not liable for third-party vendor defective products

A number of cases have entered the courts in which plaintiffs have sought to hold the giant online retailer liable for faulty products which have cause injuries to plaintiffs. A recent case involves State Farm suing Amazon over a defective battery that was purchased off of its site. The battery caught fire, leading to over $400,000 worth of damage to the home of the State Farm policyholder. The insurance company has attempted to recover the cost of its claim, asserting that Amazon is responsible for the defective product its customer purchased and resulted in extensive fire damage.

Another case stemming from 2016 involves the purchase of a hoverboard by Charles and Megan Fox. Their house burned down after the hoverboard unexpectedly exploded. The argument of the plaintiff was that Amazon failed to alert consumers about the dangers of these hoverboards which they knew existed. The judge dismissed the case, siding with Amazon, and stated that the company used an outside vendor to market the hoverboard, and therefore could not be held responsible under current product liability statutes for the damages of the plaintiff.

However, a federal appellate court has since then ruled that the online retailer may have to pay for damages associated with the fire that destroyed the family’s home, and forced the Fox’s children to jump from a second-story window to save their lives.

Some may advise these plaintiffs to go after the merchant that used Amazon to sell their products. Whether or not this is a viable option, however, is in question. Consider the story of Heather Oberdorf. In 2015, she was partially blinded after a rechargeable dog leash she bought on Amazon’s website struck her in the face when it unexpectedly snapped backward.

The third-party seller that actually listed the product on Amazon operated under the name Dogaholics on the site. Oberdorf attempted to reach a company representative, but none could be found. Oberdorf filed a lawsuit against Amazon for damages. The case was dismissed by the Pennsylvania judge who likened Amazon to the classified ads section in the newspaper, concluding that the retail giant was not liable under strict product liability law. However, the attorney for Oberdorf appealed the decision and as a result, the Third Circuit Core of Appeals voted to reinstate Ms. Heather Oberdorf’s products liability lawsuit. The implications for Amazon could be far-reaching if her case is successful, according to Oberdorf’s attorney.

Amazon as the middleman?

Thus far, the courts have generally viewed Amazon as a middleman connecting buyers to sellers. Amazon has utilized the Communications Decency Act in its legal defense – a law that shields online publishers from liability claims involving content delivered to Amazon by a third-party.

So far, no one has successfully made Amazon take responsibility for defective products listed on its site, although some appellate court action as described above has given some consumers hope for a change in the law or how it is currently interpreted.

At Cunningham & Mears, we understand the complexities of product liability cases, and have keen knowledge regarding the product liability questions related to giant online retailers such as Amazon and the products listed on their websites. If you or a loved one has sustained an injury due to a product purchased on Amazon or another online retailer, we are here to help. Our Oklahoma City product liability attorneys are ready to help you pursue the justice and compensation you deserve. To set up a free consultation, call us today at 405.232.1212 or fill out our contact form and send us a message.