Amazon is a massive online retailer that facilitates the purchase of many items from third-party sellers. Because many of these third-party sellers can be difficult to track down when something goes wrong with a product, Pennsylvania residents have had problems trying to recover damages from defective products purchased from these transitory sellers. That, however, has changed thanks to recent findings by the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals regarding a third-party defective product claim.
Lawsuit Behind the Judgment
A Pennsylvania woman purchased a dog leash on Amazon from a third-party seller named The Furry Gang. The D-ring that attaches the retractable dog leash to the dog’s collar was defective and broke while she was walking her dog. The tension in the dog leash due to the retracting mechanism was of sufficient strength that when the D-ring broke free from the dog’s collar, the leash flew toward the plaintiff’s face with enough speed to strike her face and eyeglasses forcefully. As a result of being struck by the end of the leash, the plaintiff was rendered permanently blind in her left eye.
Because the original third-party vendor could no longer be contacted or found, the plaintiff sued Amazon under strict liability law for damages resulting from this defective product. However, the plaintiff’s defective product claim was dismissed by the U.S. Federal Court District on summary judgment because they ruled that the third-party merchant (The Furry Gang) rather than Amazon was liable under Pennsylvania law. This case was appealed, however, and the findings were quite interesting.
U.S. Court of Appeals Findings
In recent months, a panel of three judges on the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled under majority opinion that, under Pennsylvania law, Amazon may be held liable for injuries caused by defective goods purchased through Amazon from third-party vendors. The panel (with one judge dissenting) ruled that Amazon is a seller as defined by Pennsylvania’s Second Restatement of Torts, and thus subject to Pennsylvania liability law in this case.
Why Amazon is Liable in this Defective Product Claim
There are several reasons that the plaintiff was able to hold Amazon legally liable for the defective dog leash under the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals. First and foremost, Amazon brings about the sale of physical items from third-party merchants. In addition, Amazon meets the four-factor test used by Pennsylvania law to determine if someone is a seller for liability purposes. In this case, the fact that Amazon was the only member of the marketing chain still available to the plaintiff for redress because the third-party merchant could no longer be found was key. The court also noted that it is common for third-party merchants and manufacturers to make themselves extremely difficult to find. In many cases of defective products purchased through Amazon, neither Amazon nor the buyer has been able to locate the original third-party.
Another finding by the court was that Amazon has the ability to exert considerable control over its third-party vendors. Because of this, Amazon should be held liable as an incentive for the retailer to protect its customers. Given this decision, Amazon will be far more likely to take extra measures to both ensure the safety of products and to keep tabs on third-party merchants in case their products are found to be dangerous or defective.
The court also found that due to the way Amazon conducts its business, it is in a position to receive reports of defective and dangerous products and take measures to remove these products from circulation. It was noted by the panel that Pennsylvania law does not protect a company from strict liability just because the business model it uses does not prioritize the safety of the consumers. However, when a product is found defective, the buyer should communicate this issue with Amazon and not with the third-party vendor.
In the state of Pennsylvania, a recent majority opinion issued by the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals indicates that if a product that you purchased from Amazon proves to be defective and causes you injury, then you may be able to sue Amazon for injury-related damages. This is very good news for consumers who inadvertently purchase defective products from Amazon and will help to hold Amazon accountable for the safety of the products it sells. This also means other, similar online distributors of third-party products may be liable in defective product claims too.
Contact Sacchetta & Baldino
If you or someone you care about has been injured by a defective product purchased from Amazon, you should contact Sacchetta & Baldino so that we can start the process of filing a product defect liability claim right away. Our team has handled numerous cases involving defective or negligently designed products, including household products, machinery, and industrial equipment. Contact us today so that we can put our years of experience to work for you and make sure you receive the compensation the law provides.