The National Law Review suggests that a recent California appellate court decision may open a door to hold online retail platforms liable for products they sell. 

This decision involved a consumer injured by a faulty battery sold by Amazon. 

Online platforms may play an active role in the sale and marketing of goods

Amazon argued that it was a passive participant in the sale of the defective battery. The retailer took the position that it serves only as an online marketplace for third-parties. 

The court rejected Amazon’s position. The justices concluded that consumers may hold online retail platforms strictly liable for injuries caused by defective products purchased on e-commerce sites. 

According to the court, Amazon took several actions to make the defective product available to customers: 

  • Building the manufacturer’s website 
  • Requiring the manufacturer to communicate with customers through Amazon 
  • Taking possession of the product 
  • Handling marketing, orders and billing 
  • Providing shipping services and using its own branded packaging 

By taking these actions, Amazon could not claim that its role in the transaction was passive. 

State supreme court is considering product liability for online retailers

The Courthouse News Service reports that Amazon’s liability for product defects is at the center of an Ohio Supreme Court case. The court is considering a wrongful death claim involving a teenager who died when he ingested a caffeine supplement bought from the online retailer. 

In oral arguments, Amazon claimed it has no liability under the state’s product liability law because it did not produce or supply the supplement. The company argued that an online retailer cannot be responsible for third-party products it promotes and ships. 

The teen’s family countered that the court should broaden the concept of supplier to recognize the role of online marketplaces in the sale and distribution of products. The family also noted that Amazon guarantees the caffeine supplement and processes complaints and returns. 

The court’s decision is pending.