The plaintiff bought a dog collar on Amazon.com. While on a walk with her dog, the dog lunged and the D-ring on the collar broke. The retractable leash recoiled back, hitting the plaintiff in the face and permanently blinding her in one eye.
Amazon is liable for safety defects in the products sold by third party vendors on its website.
On January 12, 2015, the plaintiff came home from work, put a retractable leash on her dog, and took the dog for a walk. The dog unexpectedly lunged at something while on the walk, causing the D-ring on the collar to break. The leash recoiled back and hit the plaintiff in the eye, breaking her eyeglasses. As a result, the plaintiff was permanently blinded in her left eye. She had bought the collar on Amazon.com.
Is Amazon liable for the plaintiff’s injury under a theory of strict products liability?
Yes. Amazon is considered a seller under the Second Restatement §402A and is thus subject to laws regarding strict products liability. The decision of the lower court is reversed.
Circuit Judge Scirica believes that even if Amazon could be considered a seller under the Second Restatement §402A (concurring in this part of the decision), it should not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. He believes that the four factors weigh in favor of Amazon, not the plaintiff, as the third party vendors are technically available to be sued. Since Amazon did not manufacture or design the product, it cannot be incentivized to operate more safely. An Amazon where the company researches all sellers and products looking for safety defects is a very different company than the one that exists now.
The court first establishes that it believes Amazon to fall under the definition of seller provided in the Second Restatement §402A. There are four factors to consider in determining strict products liability. (1) Because third party sellers on Amazon can only communicate with buyers through Amazon itself, they are able to conceal themselves, leaving Amazon as presumably the only option available for redress. (2) Although Amazon does not have direct influence over the designs of the products it lists for sale, it exerts substantial control over third party vendors and can remove products from its website at its own discretion. Imposing strict products liability would incentivize Amazon to remove unsafe products. (3) Even though Amazon may sometimes lack continuous relationships with third party vendors, the potential for continuing sales encourages ongoing relationships. Amazon is also in a unique position to receive reports of defective products and remove them from the website, as third party vendors cannot themselves communicate with buyers. (4) Neither Amazon nor the plaintiff were able to locate the third party seller of the collar, but they might have been able to do so if there was some incentive to keep track of third party vendors. This also rules in favor of strict products liability.