Court Rules Amazon Liable for Hoverboard that Burst Into Flames

Court Rules Amazon Liable for Hoverboard that Burst Into Flames
Published on May 01, 2021 at 10:34PM
Amazon accounts for “roughly half of all online sales,” while “more than half of all the stuff sold by Amazon comes from third parties,” reports a business columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

But is Amazon legally and financially responsible for the safety of those products?

Amazon says no. A trio of state Court of Appeal justices in Los Angeles this week said otherwise.

“We are persuaded that Amazon’s own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California’s strict liability doctrine,” the justices ruled, rejecting Amazon’s claim that its site is merely a platform connecting buyers and sellers…

“Amazon is the retailer. They’re the one selling the product,” said Christopher Dolan, a San Francisco lawyer who spearheaded the case against the e-commerce behemoth. “Because of this ruling,” he told me, “you can be sure Amazon is rewriting all its rules for third-party sellers, and it’s doing it today…”

The case began in 2015 when a California woman named Loomis gave her son a hoverboard for Christmas in 2015 — and less than a week later its lithium-ion batteries exploded while charging:

In pursuing his case on Loomis’ behalf, Dolan found that the Chinese manufacturer and its U.S. distributor had gone out of business, “leaving only Amazon to be held accountable for the injuries to Ms. Loomis and the damages to her home.” Amazon prevailed in the original case. An L.A. judge agreed with the Seattle company that it was merely an “online advertiser” and not responsible for the third-party products it sells. The lawsuit was dismissed in March 2019.

This week’s appellate court decision overturns that ruling, holding Amazon accountable for the products it allows third parties to sell on its website.

The appellate justices cited Amazon’s “substantial ability to influence the manufacturing or distribution process through its ability to require safety certification, indemnification and insurance before it agrees to list any product….” Product liability experts told me this week’s decision makes clear that online merchants are just that — merchants — and can’t hide behind their connecting-the-world technology to shield them from responsibility for distributing unsafe goods.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Håkan Dahlström
I am Håkan Dahlström, a photographer living in Malmö, Sweden.
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