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Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC

Amazon and other online marketplaces have seen huge boosts in sales over the last decade, with even greater growth since COVID-19 led many to choose online shopping over in-store purchases. Amazon’s jump of more than $100 billion in sales in 2020 over sales in 2019 proved just how popular the marketplace is, and it is not likely to slow down.

The increase in online shopping has led to an increase in damages and injuries from defective products sold on Amazon. Hoverboards, batteries, weight loss products and many other items Amazon sells have been harmful to consumers across the country.

Lack of testing, failure to warn of dangers, ingredients that are harmful and not listed, and products that are outright banned have led to lawsuits against online marketplaces. This is where state laws and the way courts interpret them come into play.

Product liability laws vary from state to state and hold companies liable depending on their role in the manufacturing, distribution, and sales process. They define and include specific elements that make a party liable for a defective product. But Amazon’s business model has attempted to break the mold for traditional products liability and demands in-depth analysis of the laws that may apply to online retailers like it.

Louisiana’s Products Liability Act (LPLA) Explained

There are four types of product liability claims in Louisiana. These claims include a product that is dangerous in design or dangerous in construction upon leaving the manufacturer, or contains an inadequate warning about the product when it leaves the manufacturer’s control, or a breach of warranty.

Product manufacturers are typically the only ones who can be sued under the Louisiana Products Liability Act for injuries or damages caused by dangerous products. However, depending on the case, companies that designed, distributed, or sold the product could also be sued.

The process of suing companies under the LPLA requires four elements, all of which the plaintiff must prove. The plaintiff must show an injury or loss, that the product is defective, that the defect led directly to the injury, and the product was being used as intended when the injury or loss occurred. If a plaintiff does not provide this proof, he or she cannot hold the company liable.

Of course, when a manufacturer creates and distributes a dangerous, defective product, that manufacturer should be responsible for the injuries the product causes. However, virtually anyone can sell anything on Amazon. Often, products sold on Amazon are manufactured in foreign countries, frequently in China. This is bad for business because it puts American manufacturers and retailers at a competitive disadvantage against Chinese companies. At the same time, this also puts consumers at a disadvantage when they are injured by a defective product because it is very difficult, if not impossible, to locate and bring a Chinese manufacturer to justice. Customers rely on Amazon to vet its products and sellers. But what happens when Amazon fails to do so, and the customer is left not knowing who the manufacturer of the product is?

Can Amazon Be Sued Even When It Did Not Manufacture the Product?

Amazon has very intentionally and craftily attempted to shield itself from liability because it does not occupy the position of a manufacturer, distributor or retailer under many state laws. It claims that its online platform merely provides a service that connects consumers with vendors. 

However, as anyone who has ever used Amazon knows, it is very different from a platform like Craigslist. Craigslist, like a traditional classified ad in the newspaper, provides a true platform where a buyer and a seller connect and then transact outside of the control of the platform.

Amazon’s control over sales transactions makes it very different. Amazon controls the listing of the products sold on its site. Amazon requires that certain safety requirements for products are met. Amazon controls the payment and distribution of sales proceeds and makes a fee off of every transaction. Amazon maintains customers’ information and prohibits communication between third-party sellers and Amazon customers. Amazon has a safety team that is supposed to contact customers if it recognizes that products are dangerous or do not meet its safety requirements. When customers have a product complaint, they take it to Amazon. For all intents and purposes, the public understands that it is shopping with Amazon, just as it understands that it is shopping with Home Depot or Costco when shopping at those stores.  

For these reasons, millions of shoppers globally expect that they can safely shop on Amazon.  But, what happens when Amazon does not live up to these guarantees, and customers find themselves injured by a product sold on Amazon? Can Amazon be liable for being negligent even when it did not manufacture the product?  

Under Louisiana law, everyone, including Amazon, is responsible for injuries caused by his/her/its negligence. So, if Amazon negligently allows defective products to be sold on its website or to remain in its consumers’ hands when it learns that the products are dangerous, shouldn’t it be responsible for those damages just like everyone else? Of course, the answer is yes, particularly because consumers rely on Amazon’s promises of customer safety.

It’s Time for Amazon to Be Held Liable for Its Negligence, Even If It Didn’t Manufacture the Dangerous Products

Americans continue to choose online shopping to meet many everyday needs, but reports of thousands of unsafe or banned products on Amazon indicate serious risks to consumers. Some injured by defective products have been successful in holding the company, and others like it liable. Nevertheless, Amazon continues to argue that because it does not manufacture these defective products and does not participate in the sale of products the way a brick-and-mortar retailer like Home Depot does, it bears no responsibility for its customers’ safety.  

Some states have seen recent rulings that prevent Amazon from hiding behind product liability laws that were enacted long before the internet and online shopping became a societal reality. These landmark cases in state and federal courts mark a turning point for dangerous products Amazon sells. As a result, more states may follow suit. Louisiana’s courts are currently wrestling with this issue.

If you live in Louisiana and you are injured by a product bought on an online marketplace, hiring lawyers highly experienced in product liability cases is crucial. New Orleans law firm Herman, Herman & Katz is in the midst of a case that will challenge Amazon’s responsibility. What happens next may set a precedent and incite change for future lawsuits. 

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