Amazon & Product Liability Claims
Amazon Prime members order over 5 billion products a year. Books, electronics, groceries, furniture – this online retailer offers every product a consumer could possibly need, and often at cost-effective prices. But over 50% of Amazon’s profits come from third-party sellers, which means that the company enjoys a legal loophole when it comes to product liability lawsuits.
In Florida, a plaintiff can file product liability claims for:
- Defective design cases
- Manufacturing defect cases
- Marketing defect cases
When a customer buys a product, they do so with the reasonable expectation that it will be functional and safe to use. Most states, including Florida, have established laws that hold manufacturing companies and retailers accountable for selling defective and/or inherently dangerous products. For example, pretend that you just purchased a new bike from a store. Later, when you’re testing it out in your neighborhood, the rear wheel suddenly brakes, causing you to fall into oncoming traffic. In this scenario, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit against multiple parties – including the retailer, distributor, and manufacturer – because you sustained injuries while using the defective product.
But can you sue Amazon for facilitating a third-party sale?
Three Lawsuits Open Give Hope to Injured Amazon Customers
Last May, the Fourth Circuit ruled that Amazon is not a “seller” subject to strict tort liability in Erie Ins. Co. v. Amazon.com, 2019 WL 2195146. Amazon repeatedly dodges liability because the company refuses to claim ownership of third-party products. That said, Amazon does facilitate third party sales, process payments, and deliver products stored in the company’s warehouses. Otherwise, third-party sellers are entirely responsible for shipping products directly to customers.
However, there are courts in the United States that are starting to hold Amazon accountable for its role in these sales – and Amazon is panicking.
Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc. has created new opportunities for injured plaintiffs to pursue damages against the world-wide retailer. In 2015, Oberdorf purchased a retractable dog leash off Amazon. When she was walking her dog, the product snapped and the leash struck Oberdorf in the face, permanently blinding her left eye. Oberdorf tried to contact the original vendor, “The Furry Gang,” but the account had been deactivated since May 2016. Although Amazon wasn’t a “seller” in this case, the company did store and ship the product on behalf of the absent seller. The court concluded that Amazon is the “only member of the marketing chain available to the injured plaintiff for redress” and “fully capable, in its sole discretion, of removing unsafe products from its website.”
According to Martina Barash of Bloomberg Law, Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc. “will not only help determine whether Amazon should be responsible for injuries caused by products sold through its website, but could also have a big impact on whether sweeping liability protections enjoyed by online companies and content providers will continue.”
Last July, a Wisconsin district court ruled that Amazon is a “seller” in State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. v. Amazon.com, Inc. due to the company’s active participation in a sale. In this case, a defective bathtub faucet adapter was responsible for a household flood. The court concluded that Amazon is “an integral part of the chain of distribution, an entity well-positioned to allocate the risks of defective products to the participants in the chain” and “Amazon’s active participation in the sale, through payment processing storage, shipping, and customer service, is what makes it strictly liable. This is not actively immunized by the CDA.” Amazon refused to take ownership of the product, but the court countered that “ownership” is a mere technicality in this case.
On August 26, 2019, a federal district court in New Jersey referenced the Third Circuit’s decision in Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc. to settle Papataros v. Amazon. com, Inc. In this case, the plaintiff, Nicole Papataros, purchased a scooter from Coolreall, a third-party vendor on Amazon. Her son, plaintiff Z. Papataros, sustained physical injuries because the product was defective. The complaint establishes the following facts: the product page says, “Sold by Coolreall and Fulfilled by Amazon;” Amazon charged the plaintiff’s credit card, not Coolreall; Amazon sent the plaintiff an email that read “Thank you for shopping with us.” The plaintiff’s legal team argued that Amazon controls the marketplace and should be held accountable like any other defective product retailer. The court determined that Amazon is a “seller” per Pennsylvania law and should be held legally and financially accountable for the plaintiff’s losses. Amazon is already trying to appeal the verdict, but it can still be considered a win for U.S. Consumers.
Are You Ready to File a Product Liability Claim?
At The Pittman Firm, P.A., we believe that civil litigation can encourage companies to establish policy changes that protect and benefit consumers. For this reason, we are passionate about helping plaintiffs recover favorable settlements and verdicts that mitigate their financial losses and shake up the status quo. If you or a loved one has been harmed by a defective or dangerous product, contact our product liability attorneys today. By taking legal action, you can hold the negligent parties accountable for their actions and protect others from suffering similar injuries.
Contact The Pittman Firm, P.A. at (850) 784-6997 to discuss your legal options with an experienced attorney.