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Is Amazon Liable for Injuries Caused by Products Sold by Third-Party Merchants?

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In early 2020, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia will decide whether Amazon is responsible for injuries caused by a defective dog collar sold by a third-party merchant which left a woman legally blind in one eye. In January 2015, Heather Oberdorf was walking her dog when the dog unexpectedly lunged, causing the D-ring on the dog's collar to break and the leash to recoil back. The leash hit Oberdorf in her face leaving her permanently blind in her left eye. Oberdorf purchased the dog collar on Amazon.com. Following the incident, both Oberdorf's attorneys and Amazon's private investigator made several unsuccessful attempts to locate the owner of the Nevada based company that sold the collar. Oberdorf then sued Amazon for strict products liability and negligence. Amazon defended on the basis that they are a services provider and not responsible for defects in products that third parties sell on their site.

A Pennsylvania district court granted Amazon's motion for summary judgment, finding that Amazon was not a "seller" for purposes of strict products liability. The court's decision rested largely on the fact that a third-party vendor-rather than Amazon itself-had listed the collar on Amazon's online marketplace and shipped the collar directly to Oberdorf. However, in July 2019, a Third Circuit appeals panel ruled 2-1 that under Pennsylvania law, Amazon was strictly liable for consumer injuries caused by defective goods purchased on Amazon.com. Following the decision, Amazon's petition to have the case reheard en banc was granted. Regardless of the outcome, the court's decision represents a shift in recent decisions where federal judges have ruled that Amazon was not part of the commercial chain and bore no responsibility for defective products such as hoverboards with exploding batteries.

If you or someone you know has been injured as the result of a defective product, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling 713-396-3964 or toll free at 1‑800-594-4884.

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