Amazon Can Be Held Liable for Faulty Products

NBC 7 Responds breaks down a recent court ruling that says Amazon could be held liable for selling some third party products.

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Online shopping is more popular than ever because of the coronavirus pandemic, but buying products over the internet comes with some risks, and it can be hard to find out who is at fault. A recent court ruling will give some power to consumers.

"An ordinary retailer is strictly liable for defective products," said attorney Jeremy Robinson, who represented a San Diego woman hurt when a laptop battery she bought from Amazon blew up in her lap.

"If you had bought the product at Target or Walmart, or something like that, there wouldn't be any question they're responsible," Robinson said.

Amazon claimed it could not be held liable because the battery was made and sold by a Chinese company. Robinson pointed out the battery was part of a "Fulfilled by Amazon" program, which means Amazon had the battery in one of its warehouses.

"Amazon had actually beaten this argument several times, up until now," said Robinson. "The law always takes a couple of years to [catch up to] where technology is, and this is no exception."

The court ruled that Amazon could be held liable for the faulty battery, which Robinson said was a major decision.

"This is the only published appellate court ruling holding Amazon liable," Robinson said. "Everyone around the country can now use this decision."

Even if you don't take an online retailer to court, this decision could still help you negotiate with that company. Many liability cases are settled out of court, but Robinson said Amazon rarely settled.

"Previously, Amazon's marching orders were, 'We don't settle these cases, ever,'" Robinson said. "It sort of levels the playing field where, previously, the playing field was Amazon saying, 'Get lost and good luck,' in court."

NBC 7 Responds reached out to Amazon but was told the company wouldn't comment on the lawsuit. Since the ruling, the Internet giant backed a state bill that aimed to protect consumers while shopping online but had a few conditions.

The bill is known as AB 3262. It would give customers more legal rights to hold online marketplaces liable. Amazon said it would support the bill if all stores were held to the same standards.

"Those customer protections should apply to all online marketplaces regardless of their particular business models," read the statment. "If AB 3262 is amended so that all stores, including online marketplaces, are held to the same standards, Amazon stands ready to support this legislation."

The bill started to generate more controversy after it was amended, as online shops such as Ebay and Etsy said their business models are completely different from Amazon and that the new standards were unfair.

The author of the bill, Assemblymember Mark Stone, said he would not continue to push the bill forward. At the end of California's legislative session, the bill was officially shelved.

Robinson said the court decision will still help strengthen laws designed to help protect consumers.

"It's a big win for consumers, not just in California but nationwide," Robinson said. "Formerly these companies were exempt from product liability because of their business structure. Now the courts and the law are catching up with them and saying that is no longer true."

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