The internet has changed virtually every facet of American life. Whether you want to order a pizza, buy a pair of shoes, find a job or book a vacation, you can do so with just a few clicks from behind your computer’s screen. The multinational technology company Amazon has been at the forefront of e-commerce for decades.
Recently, Amazon announced that it was removing more than 4,000 toxic or otherwise dangerous products from its virtual shelves. The action came after a report indicated that not only was Amazon selling products it had previously banned, but it was also selling items that violated federal regulations.
The Communications Decency Act
Amazon has argued that it is merely a clearinghouse for purchasable items. In doing so, the company invokes the 1996 Communications Decency Act. A provision of that law states, “No provider … of an interactive computer device shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” As such, Amazon argues, the company can neither verify nor vouch for the content on its site. The manufacturer of an item for sale on the site bears sole responsibility for warning consumers of dangers, the argument goes.
Shaky legal ground
In the past, Amazon’s lawyers have been effective at skirting responsibility for unsafe products. In 2016, for example, Amazon won a lawsuit brought by an individual who sustained serious burns when a smartphone he purchased on the site exploded in his pocket. The winning streak may be coming to an end, however. Recently, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a lawsuit against Amazon to proceed. In that matter, a woman sustained a serious eye injury when a retractable leash she bought through the online shopping platform malfunctioned.
While it is impossible to know whether other courts will follow the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ logic, the decision’s rationale is worth noting. What seemed to convince the court to rule against Amazon is the company’s business model. That is, third-party sellers can conceal their identities from consumers by posting products on Amazon. This, in turn, makes the company seem like the seller. Amazon also has editorial control, regularly choosing which sellers to allow on the company’s platform.
Recovering from an injury caused by a defective product may take a tremendous amount of time and money. Fortunately, if you purchased the product that injured you through Amazon, you may not be out of luck. That is, if you can convince a judge to follow the logic of the 3rd Circuit, you may be able to pursue compensation for your damages from Amazon.
On behalf of Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C. on Friday, October 25, 2019.