Amazon sued for eye damage from counterfeit eclipse glasses

E-commerce giant Amazon's brief flirtation with the sale of fake eclipse glasses has resulted in a class action lawsuit by a US couple who claim their purchase did not protect their eyes during August's solar eclipse.

Filed in federal court in South Carolina, the lawsuit alleges that Thomas Corey Payne and his fiancée Kayla Harris bought a three-pack of eclipse glasses from the online marketplace in early August, believing the product to be legit and safe to use during the solar eclipse that was visible in the US on 21 August.

The couple claim, however, that they experienced headaches and watering eyes when they viewed the eclipse through the glasses, with vision impairment, including blurriness and distorted vision, the following day. They said they wore the glasses at all times during the eclipse.

"Both plaintiffs began to see dark spots in their line of vision, suffered vision impairment, including blurriness, a central blind spot, increased sensitivity, changes in perception of colour and distorted vision," the lawsuit says.

The couple claim Amazon acted negligently in selling fake and defective eclipse glasses that were "unfit for the purpose advertised" and could cause harm. They also accuse the behemoth of unfair and deceptive trade practices.

"[The] defendant knew or should have known the eclipse glasses were defective in design and/or manufacturing, were not fit for their intended and ordinary use, were not merchantable, and failed to perform in accordance with the advertisements, marketing materials and warranties disseminated by Defendant, or with the reasonable expectations of ordinary consumers," the legal documents say.

The couple is seeking more than $5m in damages, as well as a judgement that would force Amazon to fund a medical monitoring programme for people injured by the fake eye wear.

Amazon has not released a statement in response to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit follows concerns in July that the Amazon marketplace was being flooded with fake solar eclipse glasses as demand for the eye wear boomed ahead of the celestial event.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Agency (NASA) said at the time there had been "some confirmed reports of glasses being sold on Amazon by various vendors that are not genuine and that are not made from well-known manufacturers with documented proof of their identification".

NASA warned shoppers to check the safety authenticity of glasses before purchasing them, adding that buying eclipse glasses off Amazon did not ensure their safety.

There are just five NASA-recommended manufacturers that meet the ISO 12312-2 standard for eclipse glasses. At one point, there were 140 listings on Amazon for the specialist eye wear.

In response to the allegations of counterfeits sold by "unscrupulous companies", Amazon updated its policy for eclipse glasses, requiring sellers to provide details of safety, accredited ISO certification and origin of manufacture before being granted approval to sell on the marketplace. According to a report in the Washington Post, a spokeswoman for the company said Amazon made the move "out of an abundance of caution and in the interests of our customers".

However, soon after the counterfeit allegations hit headlines, Amazon then announced a recall of the counterfeit and potentially hazardous glasses and removed listings for the offending items they could not verify as safe (including some legitimate sellers). The online retailer emailed customers, warning customers not to use the glasses, and offered full refunds.

The scale of the recall or a list of vendors affected has not been disclosed.

According to the current lawsuit, Payne and Harris claim they did not receive notice of the recall, which they called a "woefully inadequate" attempt by Amazon to warn customers.

The couple are looking to represent other Amazon customers who purchased and were injured by fake glasses and who had not been notified by the online retailer.

According to the lawsuit, the 2017 solar eclipse is reported to have been the most viewed in history with nearly half of America's 323 million people estimated to have watched or viewed the event.

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