Amazon liable for defective third-party products, US appeals court rules

The ruling qualifies the e-commerce giant as a "seller" under Pennsylvania state law, even for outside products.

Dhara Singh CNET News Intern
Dhara Singh is one of CNET's summer interns and a student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She loves digging deep into the social issues that arise from everyday technology. Aside from wording around, you can catch her discussing Game of Thrones or on a random New York City adventure with her dSLR.
Dhara Singh
2 min read
Amazon Fulfillment Center

The US Court of Appeals ruled Amazon wasn't protected from section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. 

Getty Images

Amazon can't turn a blind eye to third-party product defects anymore, a US court has ruled. After a plaintiff alleged that a dog collar brought from an outside vendor on the site recoiled and caused permanent vision loss to a Pennsylvania woman, the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit deemed Amazon liable.

The ruling, filed on July 3, was an anomaly, as the e-commerce giant had previously evaded blame for other third-party product mishaps.

While the third-party supplier that sold the collar, The Furry Gang, has since disappeared from the marketplace, the court stated that since Amazon doesn't have a process for ensuring "third-party vendors are in good standing," the company should remain accountable for the defunct product. 

The appeals court reversed the original court's ruling that Amazon was protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This legislation states that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." The ruling stated that since Amazon's involvement extended far beyond the authority of an editorial figure, it was "not barred" from Section 230.  

"This kind of transformation, though, would have costs as well as benefits, for small entrepreneurs who might be excluded as too risky, and for consumers whose access to all goods would likely be reduced with greater scrutiny of sellers," the company's defense said in its legal filing.

The court case is now in the hands of the lower court to determine what the consequences will be and whether the product deserved blame.

Earlier this year, CNET reported on how Amazon failed to accommodate the needs of pregnant woman and was tangled in seven lawsuits.

Amazon declined to comment. 

Watch this: Google and Facebook probed again and Amazon Alexa's data retention raises privacy concerns