Chances are good that anyone reading this blog has ordered something from Amazon’s website in the past few months. The online retailer is the largest in the United States, and for good reason. The company’s platform connects consumers to millions of product producers/sellers, and allows for speedy delivery to consumers through deals that let Amazon to stockpile certain products in its warehouses.
When everything works as it should, this is a great system that benefits all parties involved. But when consumers are injured or suffer serious property damage due to dangerous and defective products, they have traditionally discovered that Amazon enjoys the best of both worlds as an online retailer: Handsome profits with almost no liability. Thankfully, recent court rulings here in California may change that.
First, consider one product liability case that was the subject of an appellate court ruling earlier this summer. About four years ago, a San Diego woman was using her laptop after installing a replacement battery purchased from a Chinese manufacturer through Amazon’s website. One day, when she placed the laptop on her lap to start working, sparks flew from the battery area. She suffered third-degree burns to her legs, feet and arms, which required skin grafts to repair. The sparks also led to fires that burned her clothes, her bed and the floor of her apartment.
She tried to sue the manufacturer of the product. But as often happens when consumers try to sue foreign companies, the company simply disappeared and could not be found to be held accountable.
The woman also sued Amazon. The online retailer argued that it could not be held liable because it was merely the conduit connecting buyers and sellers. It did not manufacture the product or make guarantees about safety. In the past, this argument has worked for Amazon. But in the California appellate court ruling, the Court held that Amazon played a much larger role than simply acting as the buying/selling platform. The battery manufacturer was part of the company’s “Fulfilled by Amazon” program, in which Amazon stores products in its warehouses and takes over nearly all aspects of sales, shipping, returns and customer communications.
Because of Amazon’s clear hands-on role in this relationship between buyers and sellers, the Court found that Amazon could be held liable for injuries caused by the defective battery.
This ruling is part of a larger emerging legal trend when it comes to Amazon. Check back as we continue the conversation in our next post.