A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that Amazon can be held liable for third-party seller products, exposing the online retailer to lawsuits from customers who buy defective products through its website. Reuters reports: Numerous other courts, including two federal appeals courts, have held that Amazon cannot be held liable as a seller of products from third-party vendors. The new ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which reversed a lower court decision, appeared to be the first to buck that trend. Liability for defective products is generally governed by state law, and Wednesday’s decision is based on the laws of Pennsylvania, where the customer, Heather Oberdorf, lives.
Oberdorf sued Amazon in 2016 in a federal court in Pennsylvania, saying she was blinded in one eye when a retractable dog leash she bought through the company’s website from a third-party vendor snapped and recoiled, hitting her in the face. The Furry Gang shipped the leash directly to Oberdorf from Nevada. Neither Oberdorf nor Amazon has been able to locate any representative of the Furry Gang, which has not been active on Amazon’s site since 2016, according to court papers. In Wednesday’s opinion, Circuit Judge Jane Richards Roth, writing for a 2-1 majority of a three-judge panel, said Amazon may be liable in part because its business model “enables third-party vendors to conceal themselves from the customer, leaving customers injured by defective products with no direct recourse to the third-party vendor.”