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Online Sellers Liability for Defective Products

Monday, February 12, 2018By Richard Alexander

Sales of products through online vendors continues to grow and expand into new areas. Online sellers, such as Amazon, provide a marketplace for millions of products all in one location. But the use of third- party vendor sites raises the question of product control and quality. For example, when you buy a home appliance from Amazon, does Amazon make any representations as to the safety or efficacy of the product? Or is Amazon more like an auctioneer whose only role is to offer the product for sale? When a product is defective and an injury occurs, these are important distinctions to make in deciding liability among the parties.

Injured Party Sues Amazon

One court in Pennsylvania has definitively said that the chain of liability does not extend to third-party vendors such as Amazon. In Oberdorf v. Amazon.com, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 209899, the plaintiff purchased a dog leash through Amazon from a company called The Furry Gang. The leash snapped backward while in use and hit her in the eye. She suffered permanent loss of vision. The plaintiff was unable to directly raise the matter with the manufacturer of the leash. Instead she brought an action against Amazon for product liability, breach of warranty and duty, and negligence.

Does Amazon Have Liability as a Seller or Publisher of Information?

The first question the court addressed was the role of Amazon. The court noted that the Supreme Court of the state has yet to rule on the issue of whether a third-party seller like Amazon is considered a “seller” under products liability law. The court predicted that Amazon would not be labeled a seller because it acts more like a “newspaper classified ad section” that brings together sellers and buyers through an efficient medium.

The second issue was whether Amazon was responsible for information provided by vendors on its website. Again, the court dismissed the idea that Amazon is responsible for content provided by another provider. This reasoning is in line with the Communications Decency Act which states that a website is not the originator of information on its site. Amazon should therefore not be liable for publishing an advertisement placed on its website through another manufacturer.

The Bottom Line

According to the court, Amazon’s role is simple: it is a medium through which vendors market their products. Amazon cannot possibly vet the millions of products available for sale in its marketplace. In its limited role, Amazon has no part in the production of goods made by other vendors and therefore no liability for defective products.

If you or a member of your family has been injured by a defective product, contact Alexander Law Group, LLC. Our exceptional personal injury lawyers will be sure you get the maximum compensation possible. Call 888.777.1776, or contact us online.

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