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Courts split on retailer liability

Posted On: Feb. 16, 2023 12:00 AM CST

product liability cases

Courts disagree whether e-commerce websites may be held liable in product liability cases, many of which have involved

Cases in which the decisions have gone against online platforms include: 

  • Kisha Loomis v. LLC, April 26, 2021, in which a California state appeals court overturned a lower court and held that the state’s strict products liability law applied to Amazon in a case in which a hoverboard purchased through Amazon caught fire while it was being recharged and injured the plaintiff.
  • State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Services Inc., Dec. 8, 2020, in which the New York Supreme Court in Syracuse, a trial court, held, in a case where a Chinese-made wireless thermostat controller caused a fire, that under New York law Amazon exercised sufficient control over the product to be considered among “retailers and distributors” and denied its motion for summary judgment.
  • Oberdorf v. Amazon Inc., July 3, 2019, in which the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia held that Amazon was a seller under Pennsylvania’s strict products liability law, allowing litigation to proceed in a case involving a defective retractable dog leash that recoiled, resulting in the plaintiff’s permanent blindness in one eye.

Cases with rulings in favor of online retailers include:

  • Berkley Regional Insurance Co. v. John Doe Battery Manufacturer et al., Jan. 24, 2023, in which the U.S. District Court in St. Paul ruled that under Minnesota law Amazon was not liable for more than $3 million in fire damage allegedly caused by a cellphone battery it sold on behalf of a Chinese company.
  • Great Northern Insurance Co. v. Inc., March 9, 2021, in which the U.S. District Court in Chicago, in a hoverboard fire-related case filed by a homeowner’s insurer, agreed with Amazon that it could not be considered a seller under Illinois law. 
  • State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v., Nov. 17, 2019, another case involving a hoverboard that ignited, in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a lower-court decision against the homeowner’s insurer and ruled Amazon could not be held liable under Arizona’s strict liability laws.