When you take money in exchange for a product, most people would agree you are kinda responsible for that product. But “most people”’s logic doesn’t quite work for Amazon.
Amazon’s e-commerce empire relies on third-party sellers, but the company has long held that it is not responsible when products from these independent merchants turn up counterfeit, defective, or even dangerous. But a brewing lawsuit may change all that, and alter how Amazon and other e-commerce players do business forever.
Plaintiff and Texas resident Morgan McMillan’s 19-month-old daughter swallowed a battery to a remote control purchased on Amazon, from a seller called “USA Shopping 7693.” The baby was severely injured, but the Chinese-based seller or company couldn’t be found.
McMillan sued Amazon in Texas, even though the company has argued that it isn’t technically the merchant for the remote. Insider spoke with attorney and former Texas appellate justice John Browning, who has litigated product liability cases. He said that in the past, Amazon has tended to settle many cases before they get too far. Amazon declined to comment on the case.
“If I were a betting man, I’d probably give the edge to Amazon, but it’s a very real possibility, given our case law, that the ruling could go the other way,” Browning said. “There are huge implications.”
The case is currently set for trial in October, court records show. Jeremy Robinson of the law firm CaseyGerry, who represents plaintiff Angela Bolger in that case, said Amazon appears to have stopped allowing third-party sellers to do business under fake names after the decision came down, but he said it wasn’t clear whether it was prompted by the lawsuit.
“There’s basically a zero-percent chance of actually getting anything” from any defendants other than Amazon, said Robinson, who is also representing consumer advocacy groups in the Texas case. It could be very difficult to seize a shipment from a Chinese seller or to sue in Chinese courts, he added.
Craig Crosby, who founded consumer advocacy group Counterfeit Report, told Insider that Amazon and other e-commerce players have long ignored the issue of counterfeit, pirated, and defective goods “through legal loopholes.”
“Let’s bring it down to just common sense. Do you really say, ‘Anyone can sell anything on my website and I am not responsible for it’? Whereas a brick and mortar store is?” he said. “When you walk into a Walmart store and buy food, you have an expectation the food is pure and healthy. When you buy it online — anything goes.”
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