A California Court of Appeal has held that Amazon may be strictly liable for injuries to customers who bought products from third-party sellers offered on Amazon’s website. (See discussion of Bolger decision here).
In Kisha Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC, plaintiff sought damages from Amazon for burns allegedly caused by a defective hoverboard she purchased through Amazon’s website. Amazon won summary judgment from the trial court, which held that Amazon did not fall within the chain of distribution and could not be liable under the “marketing enterprise theory.”
The Texas Supreme Court is set to determine whether Amazon can be considered a “seller,” and thus held liable, for a defective product sold through its website, in the case of McMillan v. Amazon.com, Inc., No. 20-20108, 2020 WL 7417454, at *1 (5th Cir. Dec. 18, 2020), certified question accepted (Jan. 8, 2021).
Amazon.com Inc. is the nation’s largest online retailer, selling and shipping millions of products every day. With the COVID-19 pandemic altering shopping habits, Amazon has become even more ubiquitous than ever. While many stores and online retailers struggled in 2020, Amazon’s sales skyrocketed 37% to a record $96.2 billion in the third quarter of 2020. But what happens when a product purchased from Amazon harms a customer? Can Amazon be held liable even if it has no role in designing or manufacturing the product? Courts across the country are grappling with this question, which undoubtedly will impact online retailers like Amazon for years to come.
In a decision that may impact future e-commerce, the California Court of Appeal held in Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC that under California law, Amazon could be strictly liable for an allegedly defective battery manufactured by a third-party and sold on its website. The Court further found Amazon was not immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act. The Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Amazon.
Last week the Third Circuit made its most recent move in the Oberdorf v. Amazon case: asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court whether an e-commerce business – such as Amazon – is strictly liable for a defective product that was sold on its platform by a third-party vendor that the e-commerce business did not possess or own. Given the lack of clarity, and the “substantial public importance” of this issue, the Third Circuit asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to weigh in.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that online retailers such as Amazon could be held liable for allegedly defective third-party products sold through its website.
In a 2−1 panel decision in Oberdorf v. Amazon.com, Inc., — F.3d —, 2019 WL 2849153 (3d Cir. July 3, 2019), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling that Amazon was not a “seller” under § 402A of the Restatement Second of Torts, and therefore could be held strictly liable under Pennsylvania products liability law.
Pennsylvania has adopted Restatement Second of Torts § 402A, which “specifically limits strict products liability to ‘sellers’ of products.” Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether an online sales listing service such as Amazon Marketplace qualifies as a “seller” under § 402A, the district court was tasked with predicting what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would decide under Pennsylvania law.