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Is Amazon Liable for a Defective Toy that Hurt My Child?

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Amazon is chock-full with wares of dubious origin, defective products, and utter rubbish, and there’s little to no oversight of the third-party sellers selling subpar items via the e-commerce platform. Some items put up for sale are so hazardous that they may lead to horrendous injuries and permanent disability. For instance, a Pennsylvania woman was left permanently blind in one eye when a cheap dog leash bought on Amazon snapped and injured her left eye. What happens if a toy you bought online causes severe injuries to your child? Who will be responsible for the incident: Amazon or the third-party seller?

How does the amazon marketplace work? 

To become an Amazon seller, you will need either an Amazon customer account or an Amazon seller account, a valid ID, a phone number, and a bank account. You will also have to agree to a business agreement and to Amazon’s terms of service. In return for using the platform, you’ll pay a monthly fee (under the professional plan) or share a fraction of the profit for each item sold with the e-commerce giant (under the individual plan).

There are two types of sellers on Amazon: sellers, who are usually the businesses that make or distribute the product, and resellers, who are individuals or companies that buy merchandise in bulk from distributors or manufacturers and resell them online. While some products may be sold only by the owners of a professional seller account, others may be resold by third parties only with Amazon’s approval or may not be resold at all. But, otherwise, just about anyone can sell their ware, new or used, on Amazon.

Unsafe products are a mounting problem 

Defective, mislabeled and even banned products have been flooding Amazon.com in recent years. The reason? The e-commerce platform has been steadily taken over by China-based sellers who sell items at a fraction of the original listing price but have little to no consideration of the consumer product safety rules in the countries they’re selling their wares to or very little concerns about accurate descriptions.  

According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, Amazon is partially responsible for the issue because of its aggressive push to lure in more Chinese producers and sellers to the platform to sell their products directly outside China and cut out middlemen. These efforts have steadily turned the platform into an ‘unruly online flea market’ as things have gotten quickly out of hand (it is estimated that a new Chinese listing pops up on the website every 1/50th of a second.)

What is more, as of August 2019, more than 4,000 products listed on Amazon had been deemed unsafe by US regulators and more than 2,000 toys lacked the choking hazard label, according to WSJ investigators.

Can Amazon be held accountable for this? 

Amazon says that it cannot be held responsible for the injuries and other damages caused by the defective products sold on its platform because it does not distribute, manufacture, or sell said products. In other words, Amazon is not a seller or manufacturer, so it is shielded from liability. Many of the nation’s courts have sided with the online retailer, citing Amazon’s online marketplace status.

But holding the defective product’s manufacturer, designer, (re)seller, or distributor accountable is extremely hard for regular consumers since most of those people are located in exotic lands or are nowhere to be found when an injury occurs. So, a shared responsibility by Amazon is seriously needed.

The good news is that more and more courts are ruling against the online retail behemoth due to its critical role in the distribution chain. After all, Amazon lists the products, stores them in its warehouses, attracts customers to the website, handles payments, and ships the products. Without Amazon in the distribution chain, the defective products would have never reached injured customers.

But the odds of winning such legal action against the retailer (and its army of lawyers) are quite slim if you sue Amazon for compensation for the injuries caused to your child by a defective toy or other defective product. And if your case is solid, it is very likely that the online retailer might want to reach a settlement agreement with you, instead of bringing things into a courtroom. 

You’ll need a seasoned product liability lawyer to negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf or to help you navigate your state’s liability rules for a successful legal action. Holding Amazon liable for a defective product is hard but not impossible if you play your cards right.   

Final thoughts

Even if Amazon can or cannot be held accountable for your child’s toy-related injury, you should never despair. A healthy dose of rationality and critical thinking will help you manage your little angel’s physical and emotional troubles, and with the proper professional help, you will rapidly obtain the justice and clarification you rightfully deserve.

James Wallace has been an advocate for mental health awareness for years. He holds a master’s degree in counselling from the University of Edinburgh.

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