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How Amazon Avoids Accountability in Product Liability Claims

If you have the internet you’ve probably engaged in online shopping. The largest American online retail giant, Amazon, is likely a place you’ve trusted to spend your hard earned money. It’s become almost fashionable to shop with Amazon for everything from groceries to cars, and its streamlined delivery process makes it that much more attractive to those with busy lives.

Laws that govern personal injury include protection from companies that make and sell dangerous products for a reason. You would think that Amazon would be no exception. Like every other business process it has seemingly perfected, it appears to have found a way around being sued for product liability.

Are online sales platforms escaping fault with smoke and mirrors?

In 2016, a high end hairdryer purchased through Amazon shot a metal part out of its barrel, igniting a house fire. The victim inhaled smoke, and her home sustained major damage from a structural fire. Water and smoke damage were only part of it. The victim’s homeowners’ insurance policy paid for reconstruction and other necessary expenses, and then went after the hair dryer manufacturer – and Amazon – for $850,000.

Amazon, however, has taken a position that it’s not actually a retailer in the stream of commerce so it has no liability. In short, Amazon is just providing a virtual alleyway for consumers and sellers to transact business.

How Amazon may be compromising its defense

Regardless of whether the retailer owns or manufactures the products, it actively advertises to consumers. This activity essentially makes Amazon a necessary cog in the wheel, rolling items through the stream of commerce under Georgia Code.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon had over 4,000 products that were either mislabeled, banned, or unsafe being sold on its website. That list includes a motorcycle helmet, which is supposed to be designed to prevent traumatic brain injury during a motorcycle accident, and “sleeping mats the Food and Drug Administration warns can suffocate infants.” In the last 10 years, Amazon has had to defend itself against 60 product liability lawsuits, some of which include:

  • A hoverboard fire resulting in burned property
  • A vape pen explosion leading to burn injuries
  • A defective ladder resulting in death
  • A holiday light fire resulting in death
  • A defective dog leash leading to the loss of an eye

Amazon has settled some suits. One arm of the company is Marketplace, where third parties sell merchandise, while another arm is for the sale of Amazon’s own products, where it would clearly fall under retailer status. The problem stems from those arms being intermingled, making it hard for consumers to know the difference.

Amazon is trying to have its cake and eat it too

Amazon has relied on the notion, with fair success, that because it’s just a middleman it cannot be responsible for what everyone else is doing with their own products through its website. That argument may not work for Amazon indefinitely. Other retailers have the responsibility of verifying the safety of the products put on its shelves and sold online, and Amazon may be held to the same standard at some point, making it easier to pursue product liability claims against it.

The company’s vast profit system relies on an immensely broad offering of products, which is only made possible by the fact that it hasn’t been required to check the safety of Marketplace products. If that changes, Amazon will either be forced to spend a large chunk of their profits to properly vet those products (including pulling them from the website when recalls are issued) or have no choice but to scale back Marketplace.

If there isn’t proper accountability in the retail industry, nothing will stop companies from putting dollars before common sense when it comes to protecting your safety. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed after using a product, seek the advice of the Georgia product liability attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP. We attend to our clients’ needs while seeing them through every step of the personal injury process. To schedule your free consultation with one of our knowledgeable personal injury attorneys, call our Savannah office at 912-651-9967, our Atlanta office at 404-961-7650, or reach out to us through our contact page to tell us your story.

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