Amazon loses its appeal in Bolger battery injury case

The California Court of Appeals has ruled that Amazon is liable in a case involving a woman who was injured by counterfeit laptop battery purchased on its US website.

The e-commerce giant has been found to be “strictly liable” for defective products offered on its website, further denting its legal position that it should not be liable for injuries caused by them – even if they are being sold by third-party sellers.

The plaintiff in the case – Angela Bolger – sued Amazon and third-party seller Lenoge Technology (HK) Ltd after a replacement battery she was using in her laptop exploded. She suffered serious third-degree burns to her arms, legs, and feet, and was hospitalised for two weeks.

The suit asserted that Amazon “charged Bolger for the purchase, retrieved the laptop battery from its location in an Amazon warehouse, prepared the battery for shipment in Amazon-branded packaging, and sent it to Bolger,” so should take responsibility for her injuries.

Amazon charged Bolger's credit card for the $12.30 and took a total fee for the transaction of $4.87 – around 40 per cent of the purchase price – and Bolger insists she believed that Amazon itself sold her the battery.

Amazon won the first ruling in the case, but the California court sided with Bolger on appeal.

“As a factual and legal matter, Amazon placed itself between Lenoge and Bolger in the chain of distribution of the product at issue here,” says the ruling.

“Whatever term we use to describe Amazon’s role, be it ‘retailer,’ ‘distributor,’ or merely ‘facilitator,’ it was pivotal in bringing the product here to the consumer,” it goes on to say.

The case comes on the heels of another setback for Amazon on the product liability issue, particularly when it comes to the 60 per cent or so of its sales that come from its Marketplace platform.

In June, a Texas court overturned an earlier ruling that the company should not be liable for injuries to a toddler caused by a generic Apple TV remote sold by a third-party seller via the online retail giant’s ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ service.

In both these cases, the third-party sellers – based in China – did not respond to the litigation, revealing the challenges faced when trying to identify and bring third-party sellers to justice.

Amazon’s defence in these cases has centred on the grounds that the US Communications Decency Act (CDA) states that no “provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

"But for Amazon’s own acts, Bolger would not have been injured,” says the latest ruling.

"We further conclude Amazon is not shielded from liability by title 47 United States Code section 230…of the Communications Decency Act of 1996,” it goes on.

“It does not apply here because Bolger’s strict liability claims depend on Amazon’s own activities, not its status as a speaker or publisher of content provided by Lenoge for its product listing.”

Amazon – which has been in the spot light for counterfeits on its websites for some time - hasn’t commented on the California decision.

Image: Stewart Butterfield via Flickr

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