US court ruling means Amazon can be held liable for defective goods

Published on: 17th August 2020

The ruling will be a major blow to the online retail giant, which up to now has been able to shirk responsibility due to being a ‘service provider’. 

Amazon court rulingThe online retail platform Amazon, which grew its third-party sales 53% during the height of the pandemic, has been dealt a blow by a US court ruling that will now see it held responsible for defective, faulty or unsafe products – and the injuries caused by them.

The ruling followed a case filed against Amazon by Angela Bolger, who bought a replacement laptop battery via the online retailer’s marketplace and subsequently suffered third-degree burns when it caught fire.

Previous to the ruling, Amazon has been legally regarded as a ‘service provider’, a label that has allowed it to sidestep responsibility, landing it instead on the third-party sellers that use its marketplace platform. However, the court ruled that as Amazon oversees every step of the retail experience, it should therefore be held accountable for the products sold.

“Whatever term we use to describe Amazon’s role, be it ‘retailer,’ ‘distributor,’ or merely ‘facilitator,’ it was pivotal in bringing the product here to the consumer,” the appeals court said. “Under established principles of strict liability, Amazon should be held liable if a product sold through its website turns out to be defective.”

Toy suppliers and retailers have long been frustrated by Amazon’s apparent reluctance to tackle the sale of dangerous or counterfeit toys, games and kids’ products sold via its third-party marketplace, with both the BTHA and TIE having previously called for much stronger legislation that would force e-tailers like Amazon to take action. This ruling will come as very welcome news to many in the toy industry.

Outside the UK and Europe, Amazon faces a number of ongoing product liability cases across the US at both state and federal courts; both Ohio and Pennsylvania’s top courts are considering the issue.


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