Appellate Amazon Amazonlazarus Los: Courts in California have long recognized that a retailer can be liable for product safety when it knows or should know the manufacturer of the products is not complying with product safety laws.
A recent decision by the Court of Appeal for the Second District, Division Eight, in Sears v. Amazon, applied this rule to Amazon’s dominant position as an online retailer and affirmed findings that a company cannot disclaim all responsibility for selling products just because it is not their own. The ruling also affirms earlier rulings that a seller can be held liable for product safety even when the seller did not know a product was defective. In addition, the court ruled that a non-manufacturing seller is held to the same standard of care as manufacturers under California law.
The Sears case began in 2012 when Plaintiff Sharon Safran purchased two cedar chests from Amazon which were made in China and sold by third-party sellers. When Ms. Safran purchased the chests, she did not have the kind of knowledge necessary to make an informed decision about whether to purchase the products: In 2012, Amazon did not have a product safety program. After Ms. Safran received her purchases, one of the chest’s linings ripped out at approximately 1/3 of its circumference. This caused the chest to split in two and collapse. When Ms. Safran reported the incident to Amazon, she was directed to contact the third-party seller using a link provided by Amazon.
When Ms. Safran contacted the third-party seller, she was advised that the manufacturer would have to make any repairs or provide any replacement parts. The manufacturer initially denied responsibility and refused to make a warranty claim under her homeowner’s policy. The retailer who sold Ms. Safran the cedar chests (not Amazon) then offered to replace the linings with new ones. The retailer instructed Ms. Safran to disassemble the second chest and ship it to China so that the replacement linings could be sewn into it. Ms. Safran ultimately filed suit against Sears (the seller), Amazon (the retailer), and Taizhou Tianxing Trading Co., Ltd. (the manufacturer).
In 2014, the court ruled in favor of Sears and found that Amazon had no liability because there was “no evidence from which a rational factfinder could conclude that Amazon designed, manufactured or sold the cedar chests.” The court also ruled that Ms. Safran could not proceed with a claim against Taizhou because there was no evidence connecting Taizhou to her purchase.