Amazon has lost a battle in California over whether it can be held legally responsible for injuries caused by a defective product offered by outside vendors who sell through its marketplace.
In a decision issued Thursday, a state appellate court ruled that Amazon is comparable to a “seller,” and should bear the same legal responsibility as other sellers of faulty merchandise -- even for marketplace products.
“Amazon was a link in the chain of product distribution even if it was not a seller as commonly understood,” 4th Appellate District Court of Appeal Justice Patricia Guerrero wrote in an opinion joined by two other judges.
Amazon says it intends to appeal.
"The court's decision was wrongly decided and is contrary to well-established law in California and around the country that service providers are not liable for third party products they do not make or sell," a spokesperson said.
The decision stemmed from a 2017 lawsuit by Angela Bolger, who was badly burned when a laptop battery she purchased from Amazon exploded. Amazon's site identified the seller as “E-Life,” which was a business name for Lenoge Technology.
Bolger argued that Amazon was liable for her injuries by introducing a defective product into the market.
A trial judge sided with Amazon, ruling that the company wasn't a “seller,” but was instead a service provider that offered an online marketplace, shipping and warehousing services.
That distinction is critical, because California law makes it easier for injured people to recover damages from sellers than service providers.
The appellate judges reversed that decision, ruling that Amazon was “integral” to the transaction.
“Amazon enabled Lenoge to offer the replacement battery for sale, inventoried and stored the replacement battery, accepted Bolger’s order for the battery, billed Bolger the purchase price for the battery, received her payment, retrieved the battery from its inventory, and shipped the battery to her in Amazon-branded packaging,” Guerrero wrote.
This isn't the first time that judges have sided against Amazon on the issue.
Among other instances, a federal appeals court ruled last year that Amazon should be considered the “seller” of defective products offered through its marketplace.
That ruling, issued by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, stemmed from a lawsuit by Pennsylvania resident Heather Oberdorf, who alleged she was severely injured by a defective dog collar she purchased via Amazon's marketplace from the vendor The Furry Gang in December of 2014.
Oberdorf said her dog lunged while on a walk and broke the collar's ring, causing the retractable leash Oberdorf was holding to recoil. The leash hit her eyeglasses, causing them to shatter into her eye. As a result, she is now permanently blind in her left eye.
Amazon asked the 3rd Circuit to reconsider, following which the appellate judges asked Pennsylvania's Supreme Court to rule on whether the company would be considered a seller under state law.
That court agreed to take the case, and directed Amazon to file its arguments by early October.