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Amazon Liable for Defective Products?

By Michael L. Roberts

Recent court decisions in the U.S. have rejected Amazon’s arguments that it could not be considered a “seller” for purposes of strict liability under certain states’ product liability law. A July decision from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, considering Pennsylvania law, disagreed that it was merely an online marketplace for a product (a retractable dog leash that recoiled and hit a user in the eye) sold by a third-party vendor. The court reasoned that Amazon’s agreement with vendors permits them to communicate with customers only through Amazon, enabling them to conceal themselves from customers and potentially leaving those injured by their products with no direct recourse against the vendor. Further, Amazon exerts substantial control over these vendors, and is capable of removing unsafe products from its website. 

 Additionally, a Wisconsin federal court, also in July, decided that Amazon could be considered a seller and was not immune from liability under that state’s law, particularly in light of its order fulfillment services for third-party products. 

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