Have you suffered injuries from using a product listed on Amazon by a third-party seller? Is Amazon liable for your injuries? That’s a question that courts nationwide have been trying to answer for the past few years. California courts have taken steps that may make it easier to hold Amazon accountable.

For years, the world’s largest online retailer has maintained that it is a marketplace for third-party products sold through its platform, not a manufacturer, distributor, or seller. As such, it claims it should not be liable for injuries caused by those products. However, recent court cases have determined otherwise.

What Role Does Amazon Play?

Product liability cases fall under strict liability. That means the injured party doesn’t need to prove negligence. They only need to prove that:

  1. There was a defect in the product
  2. They used the product as intended
  3. The defect caused their injury

Strict liability makes it easier for injured consumers to receive compensation. That’s why Amazon wants to distance itself from being considered a manufacturer, distributor, or seller of third-party products.

However, Amazon has found it difficult to argue that it doesn’t meet the definition of a distributor. They set the rules for third-party stores on their platform, facilitate the transactions, and often deliver the products to the end consumers.

Bolger v. Amazon

The first significant product liability case Amazon lost in California was Bolger v. Amazon in 2020. Bolger purchased a laptop battery from a third-party seller operating under a fake name. Later, that battery exploded, causing injury.

Ultimately, the courts determined that Amazon was liable for a few reasons:

  1. Sellers must abide by all of Amazon’s terms, which gives Amazon extensive control over what they can and can’t do on its platform.
  2. Amazon stores, packages, transports, and delivers many third-party products.
  3. All communication between third-party sellers and customers has to go through Amazon’s services.
  4. Amazon earns fees from the sale of third-party products on its platform.

The second reason was the most important. Because Amazon was vital to the sale, it was considered part of the distribution chain.

Loomis v. Amazon

In 2021, another California case, Loomis v. Amazon, also found that Amazon was liable for an injury caused by a third-party product. In this case, the product was a hoverboard that caught fire while charging.

Again, Amazon’s pivotal role in the distribution chain opened it up to strict liability.

Amazon Fights Back

Despite these rulings, Amazon still argues that it should not be liable in these cases. Its argument is that the actual manufacturers and sellers are escaping liability for their own actions.

However, the California courts have repeatedly shown that many of these product sales would only have happened with Amazon’s involvement. If these products weren’t available on Amazon, or if Amazon wasn’t handling the storage and delivery of the products, these sales likely would not have occurred.

Implications for Future Product Liability Claims

The California courts holding Amazon liable for defective third-party products is a win for consumers. Many of these third-party sellers are located overseas and use false names, making it hard to sue and receive compensation from them.

Now that Amazon can be liable, it gives injured parties a viable way to receive compensation for their injuries. And Amazon might not be the only online sales platform to which this applies. For example, could you sue Facebook for a third-party product sold on Facebook Marketplace? We may soon have an answer.

Our Walnut Creek Product Liability Lawyers Can Help

Were you injured by a product purchased on Amazon? Whether it was a product sold directly by Amazon or by a third party, you may have a valid product liability claim.

The product liability attorneys at Casper, Meadows, Schwartz, & Cook can help you seek the compensation you deserve. Contact our Walnut Creek law office today for a free consultation.