Every day, many Washington, D.C. residents use Amazon’s website to do their online shopping. Shoppers purchase books, clothing, technology, household supplies, and more on the online marketplace. Some items are sold by Amazon themselves, but many are sold instead by third-party sellers on the Amazon website. But sometimes, individuals may be sold defective or dangerous products and find themselves injured as a result. In these situations, injured shoppers may want to file a personal injury lawsuit against the seller or the manufacturer of the products and against Amazon themselves in the case of third-party sellers. But it can be confusing to know when Amazon can be held liable in these products’ liability suits and when they cannot.
For example, take a recent state appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff in the case purchased a hoverboard on Amazon’s website in late November of 2015. When the hoverboard had not arrived by mid-December, the plaintiff sent an email to the third-party seller through Amazon’s website. Five days later, she received the hoverboard, which she gifted to her son for Christmas. On New Year’s Eve of that year, her son plugged it into an outlet, which started a fire. Loomis suffered burns to her hand and foot as a result. She brought a personal injury lawsuit against Amazon the next year on a theory of strict liability. Amazon filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint.
On appeal, the appellate court reversed. The court explained that Amazon could be held strictly liable under that state’s law—meaning held liable even without a showing of fault—for defects in a product if they were in the chain of production and marketing of the product. And the court found that Amazon was in that chain; Amazon interacted with the customer, took the order for the hoverboard, processed the order to the third-party seller, collected the money for the order, and was paid a percentage of the sale. In fact, over a two-month period in which this specific hoverboard was sold, the seller sold over $736,000 in hoverboards. Amazon received over $110,000 in fees from those sales for just that two-month period. Because of these connections, sufficient to establish themselves in the chain of production and marketing of the product, the court held that the trial court had incorrectly granted Amazon’s motion for summary judgment and reversed, meaning the plaintiff should be able to proceed forward with her claim.