From hoverboards to fake slime, there always seems to be something in the news about dangerous, defective products that have been sold online. It's hardly surprising, given that online retailers are bigger than ever and online shopping continues to expand in popularity.
If you get hurt by a defective product that you bought online, whom can you hold responsible for your injuries? If the product was sold through an online marketplace like Amazon or eBay, the answer might not be terribly clear.
One of the biggest questions presented by online marketplaces is whether or not the online market is akin to a traditional retailer or more of an auction house. For example, can an online marketplace like Amazon be considered a retailer like Kmart or Target? Or, does it function more like a warehouse that just provides a forum for others to conduct sales?
It's an important distinction. Amazon, for example, prefers (for obvious reasons) to assert the idea that it isn't really in the distribution chain for the products it sells. It sees itself as something akin to an auctioneer that merely facilitates a sale -- without making any warranties about the safety of a product.
While that's been a successful legal strategy for Amazon in the past, it may not hold up in the future. The courts are looking closer at the fact that Amazon exerts a lot of control over its sellers -- and control often equals liability under the law. That would seem to set it apart from other online marketplaces, like eBay or Craigslist, which really don't exert the same amount of control over its sellers.
If you're a consumer, it's important to be aware of the risks you take when you purchase something from an online company that facilitates sales from other parties. Many counterfeit products that end up being defective are coming into the United States from overseas, and it can be difficult to hold the manufacturers responsible. Unfortunately, it has also been difficult to hold the online markets responsible -- but that may be changing.
If you are injured due to a defective product, keep in mind that product liability laws are very complex. It's impossible to know all of your legal options until an experienced attorney has looked at all the facts in your case.