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Can Online Retailers Like Amazon Be Held Liable for Dangerous Products Sold in Florida?

E-commerce is responsible for a growing share of all retail sales. As a general matter, when a dangerous product injures a consumer, any company in the supply chain can be held liable through a Florida personal injury lawsuit. A recent federal appellate court decision clarifies the situations in which large online retailers can be held responsible for products that are sold on their sites.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiffs’ purchased a hoverboard on Amazon.com (Amazon). The hoverboard was sold on Amazon’s website, but was sold by a third-party seller. Neither Amazon nor the third-party seller manufactured the hoverboard. However, there was conflicting evidence whether the item was sold through Amazon’s “fulfilled by Amazon” (FBA) program.

The FBA program was essentially a drop-shipping agreement by which third-party sellers would pay Amazon and send their products to an Amazon warehouse. When an item was purchased, Amazon would ship the product. Aside from storing and shipping the product, Amazon had no role in selling the product, including setting the price or advertising the hoverboard, and never took ownership of the item. The hoverboard arrived in an Amazon box, and the plaintiffs believed that Amazon sold it. There was also conflicting evidence regarding whether Amazon retained payment for the hoverboard.

At some point, Amazon became aware that the hoverboard posed a risk of fire, and sent emails to those who had purchased the item. The email stated that there were some reports that the hoverboards could unexpectedly cause a fire, and provided additional details to the purchaser.

One day, the plaintiffs’ son was using the hoverboard and left it on the family’s front porch after he was done. The hoverboard caught fire, which spread to the home. Several family members were caught inside the fire and, while everyone was eventually able to escape, the house burned to the ground. It was undisputed that the hoverboard’s battery pack caused the fire. The plaintiffs filed a product liability lawsuit against Amazon.

The plaintiffs’ claim consisted of several different state-law claims: a product-liability claim, a general tort-law claim, and a consumer-protection claim. The court determined that all of the plaintiff’s claims except the tort law claim must be dismissed. The court held that the plaintiffs’ evidence was insufficient to show that Amazon sold the product, but that there was enough evidence presented to establish a case based on Amazon’s warning issued to the plaintiffs.

The court explained that once Amazon voluntarily decided to warn consumers of the dangers associated with the hoverboard, it assumed a duty to provide an adequate warning. Here, the evidence showed that the notice provided by Amazon potentially should have included additional information. If so, the court reasoned a jury could find that Amazon was negligent.

Have You Been Injured by a Dangerous Product?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured by a dangerous product, there may be several theories under which you can recover for your injuries. At the dedicated Florida product liability law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank, we represent injury victims in all types of cases, including those involving dangerous and defective products. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation today.

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