Injured by a Product Purchased on Amazon?
New York Court Holds Amazon is Subject to Strict Product Liability
By: Austin T. Osborn
“Can I get that on Amazon?” “Is that on Prime?” “I’m sure I can find it on Amazon.” These phrases and ones like it are commonplace in today’s world. Amazon, the e-commerce giant, delivers countless consumer products to millions of people across the world every day. But what happens when a product Amazon sells on their marketplace injures a consumer and is found to be defective. The specific elements of product liability actions vary across the country but in New York strict liability is imposed not on just those that design and manufacture products but also those in the chain of distribution. “[S]uch sellers due to their continuing relationship with the manufactures, are usually in a position to exert pressure for the improved safety of products…” Finnerty v. Abex Corp., 27 N.Y.3d 236, 241 . It seems straight forward then, that Amazon could be held strictly liable for a defective product sold on its marketplace. However, until recently that proposition was not so cut and dry in New York.
In State Farm Fire and Casualty Company v. Amazon .com Services, Inc., Amazon argued before the Supreme Court of Onondaga County that it was not a member of the chain of distribution and thus could not be held strictly liable for a defective thermostat sold on its marketplace. 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 20326 (Dec. 8, 2020). The Court disagreed, ruling that under the standards set forth by the NY Appellate Division, it is clear that Amazon falls into the category of “retailers and distributors.” Id. The Court noted that consumers go to Amazon’s website to look for products in the same way they would walk into any other brick and mortar storefront in search thereof. Further, many times the product itself is physically on an Amazon shelf waiting to be shipped once the order is placed and it is an Amazon employee who handles the product once the consumer makes the decision to purchase. Ultimately, the Court ruled that the facts were enough to subject Amazon to trial as a member of the chain of distribution of the product, who is strictly liable if that product is in fact defective. Obviously, as a trial court decision, this opinion could be appealed and the appellate division could always rule differently. But, for now, this opinion provides a remedy to New Yorkers, and potentially others across the country, who rely on Amazon to sell safe products.