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Should Amazon, which accounts for roughly half of all online sales, be legally and financially responsible for the safety of products sold on the site, including those offered by third parties?
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.
And it can be held accountable if that product turns out to be harmful.
“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.”
More than half of all the stuff sold by Amazon comes from third parties — a crucial aspect of the company’s retail dominance. In the fourth quarter of 2020, that percentage hit a record 55%.
At issue here is a December 2015 purchase of a kids’ toy — a hoverboard — by Kisha Loomis, a resident of Oroville in Butte County, north of Sacramento.
Remember hoverboards? They were those self-balancing devices meant to resemble the flying skateboards from “Back to the Future Part II.”
The real-world versions weren’t nearly as cool as the one Marty McFly rode around on in the fictional California town of Hill Valley. They had wheels and were powered by lithium-ion batteries.
Trouble was, those batteries had an alarming habit of bursting into flames.
That’s what happened with the hoverboard Loomis purchased via Amazon from a Chinese manufacturer as a Christmas present for her son.
Less than a week after the holiday, Dolan said, the hoverboard “exploded while charging in a bedroom.” Loomis was “severely burned,” he said, “as she attempted to throw the burning toy from her home.”