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Amazon can be held liable for products sold on Marketplace, rules of the court of appeal

Amazon can be held liable for defective products sold in its Marketplace in California, a court of appeal ruled Thursday. The California Fourth District Court of Appeals overturned a court ruling in 2019, recovering claims from a woman who said she sustained third-degree burns when a faulty laptop battery she purchased from a third-party seller on Amazon caught fire.

The decision could have serious repercussions for Amazon, which has for years claimed that it only serves as a middleman between buyers and third-party sellers on the Marketplace portion of its platform. That position has protected Amazon from liability for Marketplace products, that is, until now. The company is now facing several other lawsuits over defective products in other courts.

Angela Bolger says she purchased a replacement laptop battery on Amazon from E-Life, a fictitious company name for Lenoge Technology Ltd., who shipped the battery to her in Amazon-branded packaging. Several months later, Bolger claims, the battery exploded. She says she was never made aware of any security concerns that led to E-Life being banned from the Amazon platform.

A lower court ruled in 2019 that Amazon was not subject to product liability laws. The court also ruled that the Communications Decency Act would not have protected the company from Bolger’s claims under California state law. Bolger appealed that ruling, arguing that in California strict liability doesn’t just depend on having or not having a sale.

In its ruling, the appeals court said Amazon was central to the sale of laptop batteries in Bolger’s case. “Whatever term we use to describe Amazon’s role, be it ‘retailer’, ‘distributor’ or just ‘facilitator’, it was crucial to get the product here to the consumer,” the court wrote. Amazon should be liable if a product on its website is defective, the court added.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.