PERSONAL INJURY I PRODUCT LIABILITY I CASE STUDY: Amazon Liability for Defective Products – Precedent Rulings Holds Amazon Liable for Product Liability Claims Just like Any Other Distributors and Sellers

PERSONAL INJURY I PRODUCT LIABILITY I CASE STUDY: Amazon Liability for Defective Products – Precedent Rulings Holds Amazon Liable for Product Liability Claims Just like Any Other Distributors and Sellers

August 19, 2020

On August 13, 2020 the California Court of Appeals held, that under California Law, Amazon can be held strictly liable for dangerously defective products sold by third parties on Amazon and fulfilled by Amazon.  This case sets a new precedent and treats Amazon like any other distributor when establishing a product liability claim.

Case Study: AMAZON LIABILITY – Amazon’s request for categorical immunity for injuries caused by third-party products that Amazon sells through its website is denied and Amazon can be held liable

Plaintiff Angela Bolger bought a replacement laptop computer battery on Amazon, the popular online shopping website operated by defendant, LLC. The Amazon listing for the battery identified the seller as “E-Life,” a fictitious name used on Amazon by Lenoge Technology (HK) Ltd. (Lenoge). Amazon charged Bolger for the purchase, retrieved the laptop battery from its location in an Amazon warehouse, prepared the battery for shipment in Amazon-branded packaging, and sent it to Bolger. Bolger alleges the battery exploded several months later, and she suffered severe burns as a result.

Bolger sued Amazon and several other defendants, including Lenoge.  She alleged causes of action for strict products liability, negligent products liability, breach of implied warranty, breach of express warranty, and “negligence/negligent undertaking.” Lenoge was served but did not appear, so the trial court entered its default.

Amazon moved for summary judgment. It primarily argued that the doctrine of strict products liability, as well as any similar tort theory, did not apply to it because it did not distribute, manufacture, or sell the product in question. It claimed its website was an “online marketplace” and E-Life (Lenoge) was the product seller, not Amazon. The trial court agreed, granted Amazon’s motion, and entered judgment accordingly.

Bolger appeals. She argues that Amazon is strictly liable for defective products offered on its website by third-party sellers like Lenoge. In the circumstances of this case, we agree.”

– ANGELA BOLGER v. AMAZON.COM, LLC. (2020) Cal.Appl.4th D075738 (Super. Ct. No. 37-2017-00003009-CU-PL-CTL)

In this case Amazon’s involvement exceeded that of an online marketplace platform.  Here Amazon profited from the transaction, Amazon stored the faulty battery in their warehouse, Amazon accepted payment from the injured plaintiff and further packaged and shipped Ms. Bolger the defective laptop battery.  By maintaining an active role, fulfilling the product order, storing the defective product in their facilities and mailing it to the consumer, Amazon incurred liability by injecting themselves into “the chain of custody”.  When Amazon takes on an active role such as this, they basically serve as a retailer and/or distributor exposing themselves to product liability claims.

In light of Amazon’s active role the injured Plaintiff argued that Amazon should be held liable for defective products, because even though these products are manufactured by a third party, Amazon nonetheless fulfilled the traditional functions of a distributor and/or retailer.  In response to these assertions, Amazon maintained their position that they are merely a conduit between buyers and sellers, and otherwise not involved in the sourcing or distribution of products sold by third-party sellers.  The Court in this case agreed with the plaintiff and found that Amazon was in “the chain of distribution”. This holding permits Amazon to be held liable in California for product liability when such defective products are purchased through Amazon and fulfilled by Amazon.

Amazon hosts millions of counterfeit, unsafe and expired products that eventually end up in consumer homes, serving as a dangerous and hazardous risk. This ruling will benefit consumers in two ways: (1) Amazon now has incentive to implement procedures and protocol to ensure that products sold on their website is at least minimally safe; and (2) injured consumers whom fall victim to defective products have recourse and can pursue their personal injury claims against Amazon directly.

For more articles discussing specific product liability cases, in which consumers incurred personal injuries as a result of a defective product, please see the links below:

There are two types of product liability claims.  The distinction between strict product liability claims versus negligent product liability claims are discussed in the articles linked below:

Additional articles discussing compensatory damages in personal injury actions and typically negligent and strict liability claims are linked below:

If you or someone you know has been injured by a defective product purchased via Amazon or would like to discuss your Amazon tort case we invite you to call us today at 619-432-5145 for a free consultation with one of our experienced product liability attorneys and Amazon liability lawyers.

    Diana Legal