Who’s Liable? Amazon’s Defenses Against Product Liability Show Cracks

Convenience, low prices, Prime day… just three of the many reasons people all over the world love to buy from and sell with Amazon.com. And even better, most consumers receive exactly what they were looking for; in many cases a working, functioning product with zero defects.

This isn’t always the case though, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, a family plans to press its personal injury case of product liability against Amazon after a hoverboard they purchased caught fire as it was being used. A fire which spread and destroyed their home.

Usually in a product liability lawsuit, the retail store owner (in this case, Amazon) is usually at the bottom of the list of who a court would hold liable.

For this reason, Amazon has been considered mostly immune from product liability, after all, while customers can buy products produced and sold directly by Amazon, they can also purchase from third-party vendors who simply use the site as a platform to hawk their wares. That said, what happens in these transactions is considered, “not their problem.”

What did change the game for Amazon, however, was a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that noted Amazon’s awareness of the hoverboards catching fire. The company also sent out notices to consumers simply stating “reports of safety issues” while leaving out any mention of fires.

While the original seller of the hoverboards was a third party Chinese seller, since Amazon took it upon themselves to issue a notice of the threat posed, this proved their recognition of their responsibility in the issue. A lower court will then decide if the warning was negligent due to the misinformation, or rather, the lack of.

Of the three types of product defects: design defects, manufacturing defects, and defects in marketing, this case applies to the last two.

The manufacturing defect comes from the machine defect that caused the fire itself, while the defect in marketing arises from the fact that Amazon didn’t disclose all the details, as “manufacturers who fail to warn of a product’s dangerous characteristic, hidden dangers, or to provide adequate instructions can be held liable.”

Amazon was already found potentially liable in another case from just being found the seller of a defective, retractable dog leash that snapped and blinded a woman in one eye.

In that case, Amazon argued that the term “seller” should be narrowly construed, but that argument didn’t hold up in a federal appeals court.