“You can get that on Amazon,” is something that you probably hear (or think) a lot. The mega-corporation has firmly entrenched itself in the hearts and minds of American consumers with savvy marketing and on-point customer service.
But Amazon has always held itself somewhat apart from the regular chain of supply that brings goods to consumers. The company has defined itself as an e-commerce platform — a place where sellers can go to meet buyers, and vice-versa — instead of a regular online store. The 1996 Communications Decency Act, which was brought into existence when Amazon was still in its infancy, has generally shielded the company from liability for defective, dangerous products sold through its site by third-party vendors.
Well, that privileged status may be over thanks to the determination of a Pennsylvania woman who filed suit after a retractable dog leash she purchased through the site broke when she used it. The broken leash, which cost $18.45 through Amazon, whipped back on her with such force as it retracted that it blinded her in one eye.
The injury victim wasn’t able to sue the company that actually made or marketed the dog collar because it essentially disappeared from view overnight. Amazon, naturally, didn’t want to accept liability for her injuries, either, so it reiterated the argument that it couldn’t possibly be responsible for what third-party sellers do (or don’t do). A lower court agreed with them.
The Third United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia begs to differ. The appeals court ruled that Amazon plays much more than a passive role in the commerce that goes on through its site. It often suggests items to consumers based on internal algorithms and other means. Many consumers are unaware of whether the products they buy are coming directly from Amazon or somewhere else.
In reality, three-fifths of the site’s transactions involve third-party vendors. Requiring Amazon to accept liability for defective products sold through its site may be a necessary step toward better consumer protections. If you were injured by a negligently designed product you purchased online, find out more about your legal options.