Amazon can be held liable for defective third-party products, court rules

An appeals court decided that Amazon can't be shielded by Section 230.

Julie Clopper via Getty Images

A California state appeals court has ruled that Amazon can be held liable for damages and injuries caused by faulty products sold on its third-party marketplace. The decision is for a lawsuit filed by Angela Bolger, who purchased a replacement laptop battery from Amazon seller Lenoge Technology HK Ltd, which operates under the name E-Life. In her complaint, Bolger said the battery burst into flames while the laptop was on her thighs, giving her third-degree burns on her arms and legs.

The San Diego Superior Court previously decided that Amazon couldn’t be legally responsible for what happened, because it merely acted as a service provider. However, the appeals court disagreed and proclaimed that Amazon can’t be shielded from liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says online platforms can’t be held responsible for the content users post.

The court also said:

“Whatever term we use to describe Amazon's role, be it ‘retailer,’ ‘distributor,’ or merely ‘facilitator,’ it was pivotal in bringing the product here to the consumer. Under established principles of strict liability, Amazon should be held liable if a product sold through its website turns out to be defective.”

Amazon has long had issues with defective and counterfeit products sold by merchants on its marketplace. This is far from the first lawsuit it has faced that involves a faulty third-party good, but as Reuters notes, courts usually side with the e-commerce giant. It remains to be seen whether this development will affect the other liability lawsuits filed against Amazon and whether the company will take steps to protect itself from future ones.

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