Amazon Notches Another Win on Personal Injury Liability Relating to Third-Party Seller Products

For some time, we have been following the emerging case law on whether companies, such as Amazon, that create an online marketplace for other sellers, may be held liable when products supplied by those sellers cause injury. The cases have gone both ways, but on November 30 Amazon added another ruling to its win column when a New York appellate court upheld a ruling dismissing negligence and breach-of-warranty claims based on injuries allegedly caused by a defective service from a third-party provider on a product sold by a third party on Amazon’s website.

In Wallace v. Tri-State Assembly LLC (Case No. 2020-04820), the First Department of New York’s Appellate Division affirmed an order dismissing claims against Amazon by an individual who was injured after the handlebars on his electric bike came apart, causing him to fall. His father ordered the bike on Amazon’s website from a third-party seller in China, and at the same time purchased an assembly option from an Amazon-approved service provider, Tri-State. Plaintiff alleged that Amazon and its “agents” were negligent and breached warranties of fitness and merchantability.

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Challenging Price Premium Allegations Can Pay Off for Defendants

Motions to dismiss in consumer fraud cases often focus on the element of deception—whether a reasonable consumer would be deceived by the statement or practice at issue. But there is another element of statutory consumer fraud claims that deserves closer scrutiny at the pleading stage—injury. Where plaintiffs claim that they were injured because they paid a “price premium” but do not allege facts to support that claim, defendants should consider moving to dismiss for failure to adequately plead injury.

State consumer protection statutes typically include injury as a required element for a private cause of action. New York General Business Law Sections 349 and 350, for example, require a plaintiff to establish that she purchased a product because of the allegedly deceptive business practice and did not receive the full value of the purchase. Similarly, plaintiffs suing under California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, or Consumer Legal Remedies Act must establish that they suffered an “economic injury” caused by the practice or advertising at issue.

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“Vanilla” Milk Claims Continue to Sour as Southern District of New York Dismisses Putative Class Action Complaint

As we discussed in a previous post, the Northern District of California recently dismissed a plaintiff’s claim that the term “vanilla” was misleading on the label of a soymilk product.  The Southern District of New York has now similarly dismissed a putative class action complaint alleging that a “vanilla” almond milk product was labeled in a way that misled customers.

In Wynn v. Topco Associates, LLC, No. 19-cv-11104, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant’s use of the word “vanilla” on the label of its almond milk product – “Vanilla Almost Milk” – falsely communicated to consumers that the beverage’s flavor was derived entirely from real vanilla, when in fact the product includes non-vanilla flavorings.  Plaintiffs claimed, among other things, that this violated the New York General Business Law (NYGBL).

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The Ethics of Social Media “Friendship”

Social media information that reflects a person’s physical condition, activity level, and emotional state is a particularly valuable source of discovery in product liability and personal injury cases. See, e.g., Forman v. Henkin, 30 N.Y.3d 656 (2018). Lawyers must take great care to collect that information ethically.

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“Vanilla” Ice Cream Deceptive Labeling Case Melts on Motion to Dismiss

A federal court in New York recently granted a motion to dismiss claims that ice cream labeled “vanilla” misleads consumers into believing the product’s flavor comes exclusively from vanilla beans or extract, when in fact other natural flavors contribute to the vanilla taste. The decision may be a harbinger of what is to come in similar cases challenging the label description of vanilla and other flavors in products ranging from ice cream to soy milk to energy drinks. The decision also shows that alleged regulatory violations and product testing do not necessarily support a plausible claim of consumer deception.

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