Amazon will now directly pay customers for specific defective product claims. This is a significant change for the world’s largest online retailer. Previously, Amazon directed consumers back to the third-party seller when a defective product caused personal injury or property damage.
As of September 1, Amazon will pay customers directly for claims under $1,000, which is about 80 percent of their cases. Amazon also says they may help pay for claims over $1,000 if a seller rejects the claim or is unresponsive to a valid claim.
In the past, Amazon contended that they should not be responsible for defective products because they were only a platform for enabling a purchase, not the liable party. Over the years, many U.S. courts agreed with Amazon, whereas some did not. Recently, a California appellate court ruled that Amazon could be sued by consumers injured by third-party products sold on its website.
Although Amazon has been sued over the years for defective products, two cases, in particular, made headlines. One is the case of a hoverboard a mother purchased for her son in 2015. The device ended up burning the mother’s hands and starting a fire.
The other case is that of a Pennsylvania woman who purchased a retractable dog leash that snapped and blinded her in one eye. Both cases were settled out of court, stopping the states’ Supreme Courts from deciding whether Amazon should be held liable for defective products sold to consumers in those states.
With more than 6.3 million total sellers, 1.5 million of whom are active, Amazon’s role in defective product cases is in the spotlight. In July of this year, Amazon was sued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in an effort to force the retailer to accept responsibility for recalling potentially hazardous products sold on their website.
Some of the products mentioned in the suit included faulty carbon monoxide detectors, flammable children’s pajamas, exploding computer batteries, and hair dryers that were not protected against shock and electrocution. Many of the manufacturers and third-party sellers are in China or other locations overseas, making it doubly difficult for Amazon to track them and the quality of their products.
In its lawsuit, the CPSC also wanted Amazon to issue refunds for the defective products. They contended that Amazon is a distributor of the products via their FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) programs, and the company stores, inventories, sorts, and ships these products for a fee. Therefore, consumers may reasonably believe they are purchasing from Amazon.
As a result of these lawsuits and rulings, Amazon will now manage consumer complaints regarding defective products. Instead of instructing consumers to contact the seller, it will allow them to begin a defective product claim through Amazon’s customer service department.
Amazon will take the information as well as notify the seller to help them address the claim. If the seller does not respond, Amazon will handle the concern at its own cost while pursuing repayment from the seller.
If a third-party seller outright rejects a defective product claim that Amazon believes is valid, it will compensate the customer. The company will work with independent fraud experts to review customer claims for validity.
In addition, Amazon has created a network of insurance providers that sellers can access to obtain products liability insurance. They have also begun requiring more merchants to get this insurance.
What are Product Defects in Pennsylvania?
Each state has standards for determining product liability. In Pennsylvania, there are three categories of product defects: defective design, manufacturing defect, and lack of adequate warning or instructions. Pennsylvania courts use two standards to determine defective design:
- Consumer expectations standard: Asks whether the product is more dangerous than a reasonable consumer would expect. For example, a consumer would expect a pair of hedge clippers to be sharp, but if the handles were also sharp, that is a danger a consumer would not expect.
- Risk-utility standard: Asks whether the injury resulting from the product’s use was serious or likely enough to outweigh the costs of new product design and manufacture. As an example, if a battery in a cellphone explodes while accidentally going through the consumer’s dryer, it most likely would not pass a risk-utility standard because phone batteries were not meant to go through a dryer. Had the battery exploded while the phone was in the user’s purse, an expected use, that would most likely fail the risk-utility standard.
Manufacturing defect. Products can cause injury because of a fault in the manufacturing process rather than the product’s design. For example, a ladder collapses because of faulty hinges. In this type of claim, the consumer will only need to show evidence of a malfunction and prove they were using the product as intended. They do not have to prove that the manufacturer intended to harm them or knew about the product defect.
Lack of adequate warning or instructions. Manufacturers are obligated to provide adequate warning of the potential for danger in using their product. For example, a blow dryer must come with a caution against submerging it in water, which could result in shock or electrocution. Also, toys that could be a choking hazard need to have a clear and noticeable warning on them.
Manufacturers who do not provide warnings or provide them in a way that is difficult to understand can end up being liable in a product defect claim.
What Else Should I Know about Product Defect Claims in Pennsylvania?
Following are other considerations about product defects under Pennsylvania law. Always consult a lawyer for complete information and interpretation of the law.
- Statute of limitations: A product defect claim for personal injury, wrongful death, or personal property destruction or damage must be filed within two years from the date of the product defect incident.
- Fraudulent concealment applies: This means that if a product defect is discovered after the two-year limit, the statute of limitations would begin at the point in which a reasonable person would know that the device defect caused the injury. For example, if an implanted medical device fails and a doctor is aware of it but does not tell the patient, the statute of limitations would begin when the patient learned of the failure, not when the device was implanted.
- Statute of repose applies: Pennsylvania law allows a person 12 years to bring a claim relating to defective real estate improvements that injures them or damages their property. For example, electrical work completed 10 years ago that recently injures a person or starts a fire can be the subject of a lawsuit.
- Modified comparative fault applies: In Pennsylvania, a person cannot be awarded damages if a jury finds them to be more than 50 percent responsible for their injury in a product defect case. However, they can be awarded damages if they are found to be equally accountable, 50 percent; less than 50 percent responsible; or not accountable at all.
- There are no financial limits on damages in a Pennsylvania products defect claim.
Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Advocate for Victims of Product Defects
No one should be harmed or have property destroyed simply by using a product. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed from a product defect, you are entitled to much more than a small refund. The Philadelphia products liability lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC are available to advocate for you. Call us at 215-569-8488 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.