Federal safety officials have filed an administrative lawsuit against Amazon, in an effort to force the retail giant to recall hundreds of thousands of potentially hazardous products that have been sold on its website.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted 3 to 1 to file the administrative complaint against Amazon on July 14, demanding the the retailer cease selling and distributing certain products that are known to be defective and pose a risk of serious injury or death to consumers.
The Amazon.com lawsuit was filed after a series of defective products were sold on the third-party platform in recent years, including approximately 24,000 carbon monoxide detectors that allegedly fail to sound an alarm; sleeper garments for children that allegedly violate safety standards to prevent burn injuries; and almost 400,000 hair dryers sold without a required device that protects consumers from electrocution.
While Amazon has maintained that it is merely a third-party platform serving as an intermediary for other retailers to sell and purchase merchandise, regulators claim in the complaint that Amazon is still responsible to recall defective products it sells through its platform.
Lawsuits challenging Amazon’s responsibility for defective products have been previously ruled on across the U.S. In 2018, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, granted summary judgment for Amazon in a product liability lawsuit over a dog leash sold on its website.
In the memorandum opinion (PDF) in that case, Judge Brann determined that Amazon did not meet the state’s definition of a “seller” and could not face liability for defects with the product. Brann further ruled 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 dog leash lawsuit.
However, a separate lawsuit filed in a California court resulted in a ruling that found Amazon does not “merely provide an online storefront,” but rather it was “undisputed” that the company placed itself squarely in the middle of the sale. “We are persuaded that Amazon’s own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California’s strict liability doctrine,” that court ruled.
Following the filing of this CPSC administrative lawsuit against Amazon.com, Acting Chairman Robert Adler stated “[t]oday’s vote to file an administrative complaint against Amazon was a huge step forward for this small agency… But it’s a huge step across a vast desert—we must grapple with how to deal with these massive third-party platforms more efficiently, and how best to protect the American consumers who rely on them.”
An Amazon‘s spokesperson said that consumer safety is the top priority and the company is not sure why the CPSC had “filed a complaint seeking to force us to take actions almost entirely duplicative of those we’ve already taken.”
While the CPSC recognizes that Amazon has implemented some level of action to protect its consumers against defective products, the complaint charges those actions are insufficient and leaves millions of consumers at risk of purchasing defective and dangerous products.
The CPSC urges consumers to visit SaferProducts.gov to check for recalls prior to purchasing products and to report any incidents or injuries to the CPSC.