Injured by an Amazon product? You may have the right to hold the e-commerce giant accountable—but doing so is complicated.
Until fairly recently, Amazon has managed to avoid accountability for the harm caused by defective products sold on the website. An appeals court decision in a 2020 Amazon lawsuit in California changed everything. The landmark case set a new precedent under which Amazon could face legal liability if products sold through the retailer injured customers. If you were injured by a product that you purchased from Amazon, contact our product liability attorneys for a free consultation or give them a call at 866-778-5500 to learn your legal options.
Today, yes, consumers injured by products purchased from Amazon may be able to seek financial compensation from the online retailer for the harm they have suffered—but that hasn’t always been the case.
As late as 2019, courts were still largely siding with Amazon in lawsuits arising out of injuries caused by defective products purchased through the online retailer. For example, a Pennsylvania District Court hearing the case Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc. concluded that “Amazon is not subject to strict products liability claims because Amazon is not a ‘seller’ under Pennsylvania law,” CaseText reported.
Still, the court also validated some of the plaintiff’s claims and, according to PBS FRONTLINE, “was the first to reject Amazon’s claim that it can’t be considered a seller of products offered by third parties under state product liability law.”
“When it comes to items sold by third parties on the marketplace, the courts have largely sided with Amazon. That is until last year,” PBS FRONTLINE concluded in March 2020.
An August 2020 appeals court decision has since paved the way for injured claimants to hold Amazon legally and financially responsible for injuries caused by products purchased through the site in at least some instances.
Claims for injury compensation against Amazon can proceed through one of two paths: through the company’s internal claims process or through the legal system. Although Amazon’s internal claims process can help resolve small claims, you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the company if your injuries are significant enough to change your life or rack up considerable damages in the form of medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
In a blog post published on August 10, 2021, Amazon announced important changes to the company’s “A-to-z Guarantee” policy. As of September 1, 2021, the company stated, “Amazon will facilitate resolution of property damage and personal injury claims between the customer, the seller, and their insurance provider.”
For “valid” claims that amount to less than $1,000, including medical expenses, property damage, and lost wages, the company has promised to “directly pay customers.” Amazon stated that claims with values below $1,000 make up more than 80% of all cases in which a product sold through the website has caused personal injury or property damage.
What about claims involving very serious injuries that are sure to exceed $1,000 in medical expenses and lost wages? In the same announcement, Amazon noted that the company “may step in to pay claims for higher amounts if the seller is unresponsive or rejects a claim we believe to be valid.”
The policy now applies, as Amazon confirms, to any defective product sold through the online retailer that causes injury, “regardless of who sells it.”
This new policy is good news for consumers, particularly for those whose injuries and resulting damages (medical bills and lost wages) are relatively minor and fit within that $1,000 threshold. For injured consumers whose damages are more extensive, it may not be enough.
Under the A-z Claims Process Terms and Conditions, Amazon will award “compensation of up to $1 million for medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage proximately caused by a defective product” but “will not offer to compensate you for non-economic damages.” This means that seriously injured consumers won’t see a penny for their pain and suffering if they pursue compensation through Amazon’s policy instead of the legal system.
Although “up to $1 million” may sound like a lot of money, getting the maximum amount of compensation you deserve isn’t easy. When you’re going through a private company’s claims process instead of the litigation process, you’re at that company’s mercy. The same business that has to pay out the claim is the one investigating it and deciding what, to it, is a “fair” amount of compensation. Its interests are, naturally, not going to be aligned with yours.
Amazon purchasers should know, too, that any claims filed through Amazon’s “A-to-z Guarantee” policy must be filed in accordance with the A-to-z Claims Process Terms and Conditions. Consumers have a much shorter time to file a claim under this private claims process—just 90 days—compared to the typical statute of limitations under which you can file a lawsuit against companies involved in the manufacture and sale of a dangerously defective product.
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Filing claims for compensation privately through Amazon’s policy isn’t your only option for seeking compensation for injuries arising out of defective products. You have the option to pursue litigation—in other words, a lawsuit—in the civil legal system.
Others injured by products purchased through Amazon have sued the company. Even with the company’s new private claims process in place, filing a lawsuit may be a better choice for your case.
The plaintiff in this matter had purchased a replacement laptop computer battery from a third-party seller on Amazon. The battery later exploded, leaving the plaintiff with serious burn injuries.
Although an earlier legal proceeding had found in favor of Amazon, a California appeals court “agreed with [the plaintiff] Bolger that held that Amazon is strictly liable for defective products offered on its website by third party sellers,” a LexisNexis case brief on the legal matter reported.
A California state appeals court that heard the case of a hoverboard purchased through Amazon catching fire while charging and injuring the plaintiff “held that the state’s strict products liability law applied to Amazon,” Business Insurance Journal reported.
This case, Bloomberg Law legal news site reported, “expands Amazon’s potential liability under California law” beyond the precedent set by Bolger v. Amazon.com and “has powerful implications for Amazon.com Inc.‘s liability in the state, for its internal practices, and potentially for other online marketplaces.”
Although this 2019 federal court case filed in Wisconsin pertains to property damage rather than personal injury, it represents another of the earliest incidents of Amazon being held accountable for defective products sold on its website.
A defective bathtub faucet adapter manufactured by an international company with no U.S. presence and “Fulfilled By Amazon” caused flooding in a home insured by State Farm. The insurance company, which had to pay for the damage to the home and related expenses, went after Amazon for its role in providing the defective part.
Arguing that it was not the “seller” of the product and couldn’t be held responsible for content posted on the website by a third-party seller, Amazon tried to get the case against the company dismissed by filing a motion for summary judgment.
The court denied this motion, explaining that “Amazon does not merely provide a marketplace where third-parties sell to Amazon customers. Amazon was so deeply involved in the transaction with Cain that Wisconsin law would treat Amazon as an entity that would be strictly liable for the faucet adapter’s defects, if, as in this case, the manufacturer cannot be sued in Wisconsin,” the court concluded in its opinion, as CaseText reported.
Just because some recent court decisions have found in favor of the plaintiff doesn’t mean getting compensation from Amazon will be easy. As Business Insurance Journal summarized, “Courts disagree whether e-commerce websites may be held liable in product liability cases.”
Although Amazon calls injuries from products sold on the site “rare,” the Los Angeles Times reported in August 2021 that “Amazon has faced dozens of product liability claims in recent years from people harmed by products sold by sellers on its marketplace.”
Amazon has even been sued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for “failing to protect its customers from more than 400,000 dangerous products that were posted for sale on its platform,” Insider reported in July 2021.
Despite these realities, going up against a major company like Amazon remains challenging. You’re going to want experienced product liability attorneys on your side to make sure all parties involved in your legal matter are held accountable and to fight for the full amount of compensation you deserve.
The product liability attorneys at Console & Associates, P.C. won’t back down from holding accountable every party involved in the chain of distribution of defective products—and that includes filing a product liability lawsuit against Amazon and any other relevant parties. For a free, no-obligation consultation, call 866-778-5500 or complete our online form today.