A lawsuit brought by a woman who was blinded by a retractable dog leash she bought on Amazon could have far-reaching implications for the sale of third-party items on the tech giant’s website.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled 2-1 last week against Amazon as it reinstated a product liability lawsuit first brought by Heather Oberdorf in 2016. According to Reuters, Oberdorf sued in a federal court in Pennsylvania, saying she was blinded in one eye when a dog leash she bought snapped and recoiled, hitting her in the face.
A third-party vendor called The Furry Gang shipped the leash to Oberdorf from Nevada, but no representative of that company has been located.
Amazon has argued that it is protected under the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which, according to Inc., provides “crucial protection to online platforms that don’t directly publish content but, rather, allow users to create, publish, and share on their own.”
PREVIOUSLY: Amazon sues alleged international counterfeiting ring, escalating battle against knock-off products
But the Appeals court ruled that those protections do not apply in this case.
“Amazon’s involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function; it plays a large role in the actual sales process,” Judge Jane Richards Roth said, writing for the majority, as reported by MarketWatch. “To the extent that Oberdorf’s negligence and strict liability claims rely on Amazon’s role as an actor in the sales process, they are not barred by the CDA.”
More than half of Amazon’s total unit sales come from third-party sellers. Inc.’s Jason Aten said the ruling could mean the company “is on the hook in a big way for defective or counterfeit products sold through its marketplace, even though it didn’t sell them.” That distinction could lead to a dramatic change in terms of the seller’s agreement, Aten wrote.
Amazon earned $11.1 billion in revenue from services it provided to third-party sellers for the first quarter of 2019. Oberdorf’s attorney David Wilk said if his client’s case is successful, it could greatly impact Amazon’s business model.
“They cannot just say, ‘Hey we’re not responsible for what’s on our website,’” Wilk said in MarketWatch.
Amazon declined to comment when contacted by GeekWire.
On a related note, Amazon is getting aggressive with how it policies its third-party platform against counterfeiters. A recent report from The New York Times described widespread counterfeiting problems in the company’s online bookstore.