Amazon could see its business model dramatically affected following a federal court ruling that it could be held liable for a dog collar which partially blinded a woman.
Yesterday the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that Amazon is a product “seller” which can be held accountable under state law for items sold on its website for the first time.
This overturned a previous ruling that the online giant was protected from such lawsuits under the Communications Decency Act, which shields online sellers from being sued over the listings of third-party users.
According to the court “Amazon’s involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function; it plays a large role in the actual sales process,” and is therefore liable “even though the products are sourced and shipped by third-party vendors.”
This ruling could prove very significant for the retailer if it is applied more broadly, leaving Amazon open to potential lawsuits on millions of items sold by third party merchants, which make up more than half of its entire stock.
Though similar cases have ruled in favour of Amazon, the Third Circuit Court uses guidelines employed in other states across the US, meaning it is not unreasonable to expect it could be applied elsewhere.
The case in question was brought by Heather Oberdorf, who alleged she was permanently blinded in her left eye when a retractable dog leash she purchased from the Furry Gang through Amazon broke, recoiled and struck her in the face.
Despite the Communications Decency Act protecting Amazon from Oberdorf’s “failure-to-warn” claim, its immunity provision did not protect it from her claims that was liable for selling, inspecting, marketing, distributing, failing to test, or designing” the collar.