Can Online Retailers Be Held Liable in a Maryland Product Liability Lawsuit?

A common question in many Maryland product liability lawsuits in which parties in the chain of distribution can be liable for an injury caused by a dangerous or defective product. Over the past decade, online retail has exploded in popularity. In the first quarter of 2019, online retail accounted for over ten percent of all retail sales. Much of these sales come from online retailers such as

Recently, courts have begun to see cases in which plaintiffs seek to hold major online retailers accountable for injuries caused by dangerous or defective products sold on the company’s website. A recent federal appellate decision is the most recent case on the subject.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was walking her dog on a retractable leash when her dog lunged, breaking the D-ring on the dog’s collar. The leash snapped back, hitting the plaintiff in the face. As a result, the plaintiff ended up being blind in her left eye. The plaintiff purchased the collar on the (“Amazon”), and filed a product liability lawsuit against Amazon.

Amazon did not manufacture or sell the product; however, Amazon marketed the product on its website. The lower court determined that Amazon was not a “seller” of the collar, and was not strictly liable for the product’s safety. Additionally, the court found that the Communication’s Decency Act (CDA) protected Amazon from a third-party seller’s failure to warn the plaintiff about the dangers of the product. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the plaintiff. The court explained that Amazon should be considered a “seller” for the purposes of strict products liability. The court explained that when determining if a party is a “seller” four factors should be considered:

  • Whether the defendant is the only party in the distribution or marketing chain that is available to the plaintiff;
  • Whether imposing strict liability against the defendant would incentivize safer products;
  • Whether the defendant is in a better position than the consumer to prevent the circulation of defective products; and
  • Whether the defendant can adjust for such liability by increasing its costs and passing them on to other parties.

The court conducted a detailed analysis of each factor, finding that all four factors weighed in favor of Amazon being considered a “seller” under product liability law. Thus, the court reversed the lower court’s decision to the contrary. However, the court did affirm the dismissal of the plaintiff’s failure-to-warn claim on the basis that the CDA protected Amazon from third-party content on its website.

Have You Been Injured by a Dangerous Product?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured by a dangerous or defective product the Maryland product liability attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC can help. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we focus on providing an exceptional level of representation to each of our clients at every stage in their case. We conduct in-depth investigations and diligently prepare for settlement negotiations in hopes of obtaining a full settlement offer without the risk of trial. However, our skilled litigators will not hesitate to proceed to trial if the other side is not willing to offer a fair agreement. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation for your injuries, call 410-654-3600 today.

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