Amazon is a mainstay for many US households. The online retail giant offers fast delivery of an unprecedented variety of low-priced products, so it can be used to find just about anything.
Amazon maintains this variety partly by offering third-party products for sale. These third-party sellers are independent businesses that offer new, used, or refurbished merchandise that is sold through Amazon. The drawback of this approach is that quality control becomes much more complex.
So, what happens if a defective product hurts someone? Who’s liable?
Let’s take a look at how third-party product liability works, and what you can do if you’re hurt by a defective product.
Court Ruling: Amazon Liable for Third-Party Product
A Pennsylvania consumer purchased a dog leash through Amazon from a third party seller. When she used the leash, it recoiled back and hit her face and eyeglasses, permanently blinding her left eye.
Unable to locate the seller or directly contact the manufacturer, she filed a strict product liability suit against Amazon, alleging product liability, breach of warranty and duty, and negligence on the part of the retailer.
The suit was dismissed by the United States federal district court, finding that the third-party seller, rather than Amazon, was the liable seller under Pennsylvania law.
However, a majority ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed this judgment, finding Amazon strictly liable for the defective product as a “seller,” on the grounds that Amazon played a role in effectuating the sales of physical products offered by third-party sellers.
This ruling sets a significant precedent for Amazon’s liability for third-party products, and could potentially be a game-changer.
Heads Up, New Yorkers: Over 4,000 Products on Amazon are Unsafe
A recent investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that over 4,000 products on Amazon were considered unsafe. This included at least 2,000 potentially unsafe toys and medications that didn’t have warnings about health risks to children.
Other potentially unsafe products included toxic paint strippers, infant sleeping masks that have been linked to suffocation, dietary supplements that contain illegal prescription drugs, and products falsely stating that they were certified by a federal agency.
Amazon has not directly responded to or disputed the report, but posted the steps the company takes to vet potential products.
Three US senators recently sent a letter to Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, calling for a “sweeping internal investigation” of potentially unsafe products. The senators also called for Amazon to immediately remove the items that had been deemed unsafe.
New York Product Liability
In the meantime, if you’re injured by a defective product from Amazon, what are your options?
First, know that any case involving a third-party seller will quickly become complex, meaning you’ll need to enlist the help of an expert product liability attorney, who will know how to navigate even a complex product liability case effectively.
In New York, there are three types of defective product liability suits:
- Design defects: Even if an item is flawlessly manufactured, its design is such that it’s less safe than a consumer could reasonably expect.
- Manufacturing defects: The item is safely designed, but a flaw in the manufacturing of that specific item led to an unsafe product defect.
- Marketing defects: The manufacturer or retailer failed to warn of the product’s safety hazards.
In most cases, a product liability suit for a third-party product would focus on marketing defects, as the complex supply chain of third-party products often makes the manufacturer difficult to identify.
The bottom line is that if you’re hurt by a defective product, your only option to recover damages to cover the costs of your injury is often a product liability suit. Make sure that you’re informed of your rights, and pursue the compensation you deserve.