En Banc Third Circuit Sends Online Marketplace Liability Issue to Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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.

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Third Circuit Holds Online Retailers May Be Liable for Defective Third-Party Products Under Pennsylvania Product Liability Laws

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.

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