Court Finds Amazon Not Liable For Third Party Product Injuries

A federal judge has ruled that the online mega-retailer Amazon cannot be held liable for injuries caused by third party products the company sells on its website. 

In a ruling issued last month, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, granted a summary judgment request filed by Amazon in a product liability lawsuit over a dog leash sold on its popular website,

In the memorandum opinion (PDF), Judge Brann determined that Amazon did not meet the state’s definition of a “seller” and had no liability.

The lawsuit was brought by Heather Oberdorf, who claimed that a dog leash by The Furry Gang purchased on the site was defective and broke in 2015, while she was walking her dog. The leashed snapped back and hit her, leaving her partially blind.

When she was unable to locate or contact the manufacturer, she filed a product liability complaint against Amazon. However, the company argued that it was a marketing place for third-party vendors, and not the seller or manufacturer, and thus had no liability for Oberdorf’s injuries.

The court agreed, and Judge Brann noted that state law in Pennsylvania did not define marketing places, like auction houses, as meeting the definition of sellers.

“Like an auctioneer, Amazon is merely a third-party vendor’s ‘means of marketing,’ since third-party vendors—not Amazon—’cho[o]se the products and expose[] them for sale by means of’ the Marketplace,” Judge Brann stated. “Because of the enormous number of thirdparty vendors (and, presumably, the correspondingly enormous number of goods sold by those vendors) Amazon is similarly ‘not equipped to pass upon the quality of the myriad of products’ available on its Marketplace.”

Brann noted that the only time the company might be liable for products sold on its site is when the third-party vendor participates in the “Fulfillment by Amazon” program, which was not the case with The Furry Gang products.

Oberdorf’s attorneys said they were disappointed by the ruling and intend to appeal the decision.

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