Courts grapple with Amazon’s responsibility for dangerous products


A tragic accident and a faulty rhinestone dog collar are at the center of a court drama that could have far-reaching effects on how products are sold online.

In 2015, Heather Oberdorf took her dog for a walk outside her Pennsylvania home, attaching a retractable leash to a collar she bought from Amazon seller The Furry Gang. The collar broke when her dog lunged, and the leash snapped back, permanently blinding her in one eye, according to the complaint she filed in 2016.

In the first significant decision of its kind, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled last week that Amazon can be held liable for selling the defective product the same way a brick-and-mortar store would be, despite the company’s claim it is only serving as a platform to connect buyers to third party companies like The Furry Gang.

The decision is a significant departure from the outcomes of other recent court battles. Within the last three months, two other federal courts have ruled the opposite: That, despite taking a cut of sales from third-party sales, Amazon can’t be held responsible for damage caused by the products sold in its third-party “marketplace.”

State and federal courts have rejected lawsuits against Amazon over everything from deadly supplements to exploding hover-boards for the same reason. The decision in the dog-leash case could change that.

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