In light of COVID-19, everyone seems to be shopping online more frequently. Whether you’re shopping online to adhere to social distancing concerns or simply out of boredom, Amazon has become an important part of regular online shopping trips in many households. When a product purchased from the online retailer, however, injures someone in your family, is Amazon liable in a Texas products liability lawsuit? Or is the entity or individual who sold you the product responsible?
In a recent Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, the court had to consider a Texas products liability case involving a parent’s worst nightmare. The plaintiff’s husband purchased a remote control from Amazon.com. A year later, the couple’s 19-month-old baby girl swallowed the battery from the remote control. Surgeons had to remove the battery.
The plaintiff claimed that the battery’s fluid from its electrical charge resulted in severe, permanent, and irreversible damage to the child’s esophagus. After the plaintiff notified Amazon of the incident, Amazon notified the seller, who did not respond. The seller’s account was subsequently suspended. The plaintiff sued Amazon and the seller, alleging strict liability and negligence under a variety of product liability theories.
Amazon filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was not liable for any of the claims because, under Texas law, it wasn’t the “seller” of the remote control since it only facilitated the purchase. The district court found that Amazon was a “seller” because the company “was an integral component in the chain of distribution” by facilitating the sale, physically possessing the product, delivering the item, earning a commission from the sale, and controlling other aspects of the transaction.
On appeal, the court had to consider whether Amazon was considered a “seller” under Texas product liability law. Because there were no controlling cases or precedents established in the circuit or the state, the Court of Appeals certified the question and sent it back to the Texas Supreme Court so the state court could have a say in how the state’s law applied.
In Texas, a “seller” is defined as “a person who is engaged in the business of distributing or otherwise placing, for any commercial purpose, in the stream of commerce for use or consumption of a product or any component part thereof.” Although no Texas court has decided whether a major online retailer such as Amazon is considered a “seller” under Texas products liability law, there is no straightforward answer to this question.
Some federal courts interpreting Texas law have found that when a company has “physical possession” or control of a product, that this weighs in favor of the company being categorized as a “seller.” In addition, because Amazon is a delivery service and engages in the commercial transaction of various products, some arguments weigh in favor of Amazon being considered a “seller” under product liability laws.
In other states where Amazon has had to litigate its “seller” status, however, most courts have ruled in favor of the e-commerce company. For example, decisions in Tennessee, Maryland, New York, California, Arizona, New Jersey, and Ohio have sided with Amazon. In addition, the Ninth Circuit recently also decided that Amazon was not considered a “seller” under Arizona laws. This is a very important determination, as if Amazon is a seller, it would allow plaintiffs to pursue a claim against Amazon, and not just the company who sold the product (which may or may not have the assets necessary to fairly compensate the plaintiff for their injuries).
Do You Need a Texas Products Liability Attorney?
If you or someone you love was recently injured by a dangerous or defective product, contact the San Antonio product liability attorneys at Carabin Shaw today. Our team has years of experience representing clients in all types of personal injury claims and will navigate the complexities of your case and the Texas legal system with confidence. To schedule a free initial consultation today, contact us at 800-862-1260. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our representation unless we can help you obtain compensation for your injuries.