Nowadays, it seems that ordering items from Amazon is as ubiquitous as getting groceries from the store. With a vast array and selection of products at various price points and fast two-day shipping, California consumers have built a reliance on the e-commerce provider over the years. When a product you order from Amazon injures you, however, you may have grounds to bring a product liability claim against the company or the seller depending on the context of the case.
In a recent California Court of Appeal decision, a plaintiff brought a product liability claim against Amazon for injuries she suffered from an allegedly defective hoverboard. The plaintiff purchased the board as a Christmas gift for her son, who plugged it into an outlet in the plaintiff’s bedroom to charge. The plaintiff’s boyfriend later discovered a fire burning in her bedroom, and her bed and the hoverboard were on fire. The plaintiff suffered burns to her hand and foot as a result of fighting the fire. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Amazon. The plaintiff appealed her strict and negligent product liability claims.
On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. In its opinion, the court acknowledged that Amazon was a link in the vertical chain of distribution. E-commerce, however, may not fit into a traditional sales structure analysis adopted by the court, so there was a triable issue of material fact and the trial court erred in dismissing the case too soon. In addition, the Court was unpersuaded by Amazon’s argument that it was merely a service provider and not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.