Are online retailers liable for products sold by third parties?

On Behalf of | Sep 9, 2020 | Consumer Law

Most of us in St. Louis have purchased something from online retail giant Amazon. However, what you may not realize is that the product you bought on Amazon actually came from a third-party vendor. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that almost 60% of items sold on Amazon come from third-party vendors. And, as some recent court rulings across the nation have shown, determining whether Amazon should be held liable when a product purchased on its site from a third-party vendor is defective, causing serious injuries, is a sticky subject.

The tide may be turning against Amazon in products liability cases

For many years, Amazon argued, and courts agreed, that it is not liable for defective products sold on its site by third-party vendors. However, recent cases across the nation have started to rule against Amazon in such cases, and in one state, legislation is being debated that would make Amazon and other online retailers like it, liable for injuries caused by third-party product defects. This would put Amazon and other online retailers on par with traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Does Amazon have control over third-party products?

In one recent case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in California issued a ruling in a products liability case stating that Amazon, like physical stores, is part of the chain of distribution of products, and could have influenced product safety. The court ruled that Amazon’s actions and control over the defective product were enough to impose liability on the online retail giant.

Is Amazon responsible for putting third-party products in the ‘stream of commerce’?

In another case coming from Texas, a federal judge stated that Amazon put a dangerous product in the “stream of commerce” and could be held responsible for injuries caused by that product, even though the product was sold on Amazon by a third-party vendor.

Time will tell whether online retailers will be responsible for defective products

It will be interesting to see if other courts in the nation will issue similar rulings in the future and whether other states, including Missouri will propose legislation that would hold online retailers responsible for dangerous products sold on their site by third-party vendors. The issue of liability in products liability cases is complex, especially when it is possible there could be more than one defendant. Those who want more information on products liability law are encouraged to seek the assistance they need to better understand this topic.