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Are E-Commerce Websites Liable for Injuries Involving Third-Party Products?

October 08, 2019

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

A recent case involving a Pennsylvania woman has many talking about the state’s product liability laws and how they apply to e-commerce websites, such as Amazon or eBay. Heather Oberdorf had purchased a retractable dog leash off Amazon through a third-party seller. While using the leash, Oberdorf retracted it and it recoiled with such force it hit her in the eye, partially blinding her. She filed a lawsuit against Amazon, claiming they were liable for her injuries. Now, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with her.

Amazon and Third-Party Sellers

Most people are aware of Amazon, the giant e-commerce company that has exploded in popularity in recent years. While Amazon does sell some of their own products, they also allow third-party sellers on their platform. Approximately half of the products on Amazon are owned by the company. The other half are owned by third-party sellers.

Amazon offers certain services to these sellers, such as storage of the products and help with the payment structure. In exchange, Amazon gets a commission from the sale of the product. This system makes it very difficult to determine which seller is liable when one of those products hurts someone. Does the fault lie with Amazon, or the third-party?

Liability for Third-Party Defective Products

In the past, Amazon has overcome many lawsuits involving defective third-party products that injured a consumer. The company has always claimed that they were not the actual seller. They simply provided a way for businesses and entrepreneurs to get their product out to the masses.

In Oberdorf v. Amazon, the Federal District Court agreed, stating that Amazon was not responsible for the woman’s injuries. After appealing her case to the Third Circuit Court, Oberdorf was successful with her claim.

The Third Circuit Court examined other court decisions regarding Amazon’s position as a seller. They found that while those decisions may have complied with product liability laws in other states, they do not apply in Pennsylvania. In the Keystone State, manufacturers and sellers are held strictly liable if their products hurt someone. The Court ruled that Amazon had more control over the product than consumers, and could have prevented an accident from occurring.

The Court also established that Amazon was not merely a sales agent that provided a way for third-party sellers and consumers to connect. Instead, the Court found that Amazon accepts orders, arranges shipping, and exerts control over sales by limiting product pricing, customer service, and even communications with potential customers. As such, Amazon is liable when those products hurt someone. This most recent decision provides hope for anyone that’s been hurt by a product they purchased online.

Were You Injured by a Defective Product? Call Our Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorneys

If you’ve been hurt by a defective product, you may be entitled to compensation. Our Allentown personal injury attorneys at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim can help you get it. We will aggressively pursue your case, enter litigation when needed, and remain committed to helping you get the best possible outcome. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 to learn more about how we can help.



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