CHIEF LEGAL COUNSEL CHRISTOPHER DOLAN, ATTORNEY FOR THE PLAINTIFF, CALLED THE DECISION “A MAJOR VICTORY FOR CONSUMERS THROUGHOUT THE STATE.
In a landmark decision affecting hundreds of millions of Amazon customers, on April 26, 2021, the California Appellate Court ruled that Amazon can be held liable for injuries caused by defective products sold through Amazon.com.
In the case of Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC, The California Court of Appeals, Second Appellate Division ruled that Amazon can be held liable for injuries caused by an exploding hoverboard, manufactured in China, which was purchased on Amazon.com and shipped directly from the manufacturer to the Amazon shopper. San Francisco attorney Christopher Dolan, who represents the plaintiff and argued the appeal, called the ruling “a major victory” for consumers throughout the state.
“Amazon can’t escape liability for defective products it sells to its customers by claiming it is not involved in the marketing, sale and distribution of goods and is just an ‘advertiser,’” he said. “To claim otherwise is just a plain lie.”
In his successful appeal, Dolan argued that Amazon, just like the brick and mortar stores it has put out of business, gets paid a percentage of the sales price on every product sold along with listing fees, handling fees, return fees, etc. “If this hoverboard had been sold at a local mom-and-pop sporting goods store, they could be held liable for the injuries caused by its defects,” he said. “Amazon shouldn’t’get a pass by claiming that they are just a ‘digital matchmaker.’”
The case originated after a consumer purchased a hoverboard that exploded in her home, causing her severe injuries and extensive damage to her home. Kisha Loomis, a resident of Oroville, California, bought her son the hot toy of the season on Amazon in December of 2015. The hoverboard was manufactured by the SmileTo Company in China and sold under the pseudonym TurnUpUp, through Amazon. Before purchas-ing the item, Ms. Loomis had searched Amazon.com for hoverboards, reviewed the selections displayed by its algorithms, and read the ratings and reviews.
Ms. Loomis’ purchase was one of over 380,000 such hoverboards sold by Amazon in Q4 of 2015. Before the product had shipped, and unbeknownst to Ms. Loomis, Amazon had been tracking the growing incidence of hoverboard battery fires and had taken down all hoverboard listings because of concerns for fire danger in the USA and UK. Despite this knowledge, the company allowed the product to be shipped from China to Ms. Loomis and failed to warn her of the danger. It was opened by her son on Christmas and, after less than a week of use, it exploded while charging in a bedroom. Ms. Loomis was severely burned by the rocket-like battery explosion as she attempted to throw the burning toy from her home. The Chinese manufacturer, SmileTo, as well as its U.S. Distributor, Forrnix Technologies, had gone out of business, leaving only Amazon to be held accountable for the injuries to Ms. Loomis and the damages to her home. Amazon persuaded a Los Angeles judge that it was not a seller of products and that it was merely an “online advertiser” and had the case dismissed. Dolan filed an appeal, arguing that the law needed to keep up with the changing digital marketplace and that online retailers, just like brick-and-mortar stores, were an integral part of the marketing, distribution and sales of products and should be held to the same legal standards. The Court of Appeals agreed, stating,
“Amazon thus must face strict liability for Loomis’s fiery encounter with the hoverboard she bought from Amazon’s site. Imposing this duty on Amazon creates financial incentives that back up Amazon’s good words about its concern for customer safety.”
Ms. Loomis, upon hearing the decision stated:
“This restores my faith in the belief that even a single person like myself, through the courts, can get justice and make a difference in this world where we feel overwhelmed by the thought of fighting a Giant like Amazon. I hope this makes the world a safer place so no one else has to go through what my family went through.”
Dolan heralded the decision. “This case will set precedent not only in California but, hopefully, throughout the nation, and it forces Amazon to make sure the products it sells are safe, something it should be doing already,” he said. The case will now be sent back to the LA Superior Court where discovery will continue; a trial date is expected to be set in 2022. Christopher Dolan is available for immediate interviews about the case.
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