If you’re one of those people who depend on Amazon for everything from aspirin to kids’ clothes to big-screen TVs, you may wonder what responsibility this behemoth company has when a product sold on its site is defective or even dangerous. Just recently, some children’s pajamas sold on Amazon were recalled for failing to meet federal flammability standards.
So far, Amazon has been able to escape liability for exploding hoverboards, faulty dog collars and much more. It has successfully argued in lawsuits brought by customers that those at fault are the third-party merchants that use Amazon to distribute their products. Courts have sided with Amazon since product liability laws were written before the rise of gigantic online marketplaces.
A “Shot over the bow” for all online marketplaces
Now Amazon is facing a bigger plaintiff – the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Last month the CPSC filed suit against Amazon to try to force the company to take part in recalls of a number of defective products sold through its website. The CPSC is also asking the court to declare Amazon a distributor under federal law. If this happens, it would also have a legal obligation to warn customers if banned or defective products were somehow to make their way back onto the site.
One attorney called the lawsuit “a shot over the bow for online platforms in general” like eBay, Etsy and others. The suit isn’t going to be resolved any time soon – possibly not for years.
State lawmakers could take action if they chose to
In the meantime, individual state legislatures have the power to pass laws that would hold these online marketplaces to the same standards as brick-and-mortar retailers when it comes to liability for defective and harmful products.
If you or a loved one has been harmed by a defective product, it’s wise to find out what your legal options are for seeking compensation from any parties you can hold liable.