Amazon can be held liable for defective products sold on its Marketplace in California, an appeals court ruled Thursday. The California Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed a 2019 trial court ruling and reinstated claims from a woman who says she suffered third-degree burns when a defective laptop battery she bought from a third-party seller on Amazon caught fire.
The decision could have dire repercussions for Amazon, which has argued for years that it only serves as an intermediary between buyers and third-party sellers on the Marketplace portion of its platform. That stance has protected Amazon from liability for Marketplace products, that is, until now. The company is now facing several other lawsuits over defective products in other courts.
Angela Bolger says she bought a replacement laptop battery on Amazon from E-Life, a fictitious company name for Lenoge Technology Ltd., which shipped the battery to her in Amazon-branded packaging. Several months later, Bolger claims, the battery exploded. She says she was never notified of safety concerns that led to E-Life being banned from Amazon’s platform.
A lower court ruled in 2019 that Amazon was not covered under product liability laws. The trial court also ruled that the Communications Decency Act would not have shielded the company from Bolger’s claims under California state law. Bolger appealed that ruling, arguing that in California, strict liability doesn’t depend just on whether a sale was made.
In its ruling, the appeals court said Amazon was central to the laptop battery sale in Bolger’s case. “Whatever term we use to describe Amazon’s role, be it ‘retailer,’ ‘distributor,’ or merely ‘facilitator,’ it was pivotal in bringing the product here to the consumer,” the court wrote. Amazon should be liable if a product on its website is defective, the court added.