Retailer liable for 3rd party product defects, CA court rules

The Four Percent


CLOSE got more bad news from the courts Thursday. In California at least, customers who receive defective products from the “marketplace” section of its website can hold Amazon liable for harm, not just the re-seller, a California appeals court ruled.

The case was filed by Angela Bolger of San Diego, who says she received third-degree burns to her arms, legs and feet from a Chinese laptop battery she bought on Amazon.

This is one of many cases from customers asking for damages from defective products in many state courthouses. The ruling could have way broader implications than just in California, as Amazon’s website is way more than just products sold by Amazon. “More than half the units sold in our stores are from independent sellers,” Amazon says on its website.


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The appeals process tossed out the earlier decision and ruled that Amazon should be treated like other retailers – and be subject to California’s product liability laws. 

“It is impossible to overstate the magnitude of this ruling,” CaseyGerry partner Jeremy Robinson, who argued the case on behalf of Bolger, said. “Consumers across the nation will feel the impact of this.”

Amazon, according to the lawsuit, said it wasn’t liable because it didn’t distribute, manufacture or even sell the product – that was done by the third party reseller, Lenoge, which markets itself as E-Life. 

The court explained why it agreed with Bolger. “Amazon placed itself between Lenoge and Bolger in the chain of distribution of the product at issue here. Amazon accepted possession of the product from Lenoge, stored it in an Amazon warehouse, attracted Bolger to the Amazon website, provided her with a product listing for Lenoge’s product, received her payment for the product, and shipped the product in Amazon packaging to her. … Whatever term we use to describe Amazon’s role, be it “retailer,” “distributor,” or merely “facilitator,” it was pivotal in bringing the product here to the consumer.”

Additionally, the court ruled that Amazon is not shielded from liability by title 47 United States Code section 230, otherwise known as the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which prevents internet service providers from being held liable as a speaker or publisher of third-party content.

“It does not apply here because Bolger’s strict liability claims depend on Amazon’s own activities, not its status as a speaker or publisher of content provided by Lenoge for its product listing.”

We reached out to Amazon for comment, but didn’t receive a reply before this post went live.

Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter

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