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It's Prime Time To Sue Amazon (PA)

July 19, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">Stop me if you have heard this before. You log onto Amazon, quickly buy an item, and the item does not work as intended. Furthermore, when you try to contact the seller of the item, you receive no response. Amazon can’t help you, it claims, because it is merely a third-party providing a platform for others to sell goods. Well, the Third Circuit, in a recently published decision, has concluded that Amazon may be liable for defective products bought through Amazon, even if the item was sold by a third-party.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The instant facts in <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Oberdorf-v.-Amazon-1.pdf">Oberdorf v. Amazon</a></em> are somewhat unusual but capable of repetition. Here, plaintiff Oberdorf bought a dog leash on Amazon from a vendor named The Furry Gang. The dog leash was shipped directly to Oberdorf in Pennsylvania from The Furry Gang, located in Nevada. While utilizing the leash, the leash snapped, recoiled, and eventually blinded Oberdorf. The Third Circuit, in setting a direct conflict with two sister circuits, determined that Amazon should be held strictly liable for the defective product for two reasons. First, both Amazon and Oberdorf were unable to locate The Furry Gang and effectuate process. The Court determined that there are many instances in which neither Amazon nor an injured third party can locate the culpable seller. Moreover, the customers’ lack of ability was due to Amazon’s policy choice – namely, that third-party vendors may ONLY communicate with the customers through Amazon. The Court determined that this allowed “third-party vendors to conceal themselves from the customers, leaving customers injured by defective products with no direct recourse to the third-party vendor.”</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Second, the Third Circuit, reading between the lines, arguably indicated, as a policy matter, that Amazon was in the best place to limit defective products being sold on its market as it exerts “substantial control over third-party vendors."  Among the powers that Amazon possesses is the power to suspend vendor accounts, set goals and incentives, and/or terminate vendor agreements. Consequently, the Court reasoned that Amazon is the only entity that can remove unsafe products from its website. Specifically, “[i]mposing strict liability upon Amazon would be an incentive [to remove defective products]”.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This will be an interesting case to watch. It is highly likely, given the circuit split, that Amazon may attempt to appeal this decision to the United States Supreme Court.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Matthew Care for his contribution to this post.  Please contact <a href="mailto:gcoats@wcmlaw.com">Georgia Coats</a> with any questions.</p>

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