Articles Posted in Product Liability

shutterstock_1716326770-e1622138969244-300x188A California court of appeals recently held that Amazon may be held liable for a defective product sold by a third party on its site. The plaintiff in the case purchased a hoverboard on Amazon from a third-party seller on the site named TurnUpUp. After she received the hoverboard, it allegedly started a fire when it was charging, causing the plaintiff to suffer burns to her hand and foot. She filed a claim against Amazon claiming that it was responsible for the defective hoverboard she purchased on the site. Amazon argued that it is an “online mall” or “online storefront” for third-party sellers and could not be held liable under California products liability law. A judge initially agreed and dismissed the case against Amazon. However, a California appeals court disagreed, holding that Amazon may be liable under California strict liability law.

First, the court held that Amazon’s business practices make the company a direct link in the chain of distribution under California strict liability law. Under California law, a manufacturer, retailer, or “any business entity in the chain of production and marketing” is strictly liable if the article the manufacturer places on the market is defective and causes injury to a person. The approach is meant to hold liable all those engaged in producing and marketing a product and who should shoulder the cost of a defective product. The court held that Amazon’s business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California’s strict liability law. The consumer found the item through Amazon’s website, Amazon took the order, processed the payment, and transmitted the order to the third party. The consumer sent a message to the seller through Amazon’s website and could not communicate with the seller directly. A return also would have been processed through Amazon. Amazon also transferred payment to the third party after deducting its fees. Thus, Amazon was unlike an “online mall” as malls normally do not serve as a conduit for payment and communication in every transaction between a buyer and a seller and do not charge a per-item fee.

In addition, the court found Amazon might be liable under a stream-of-commerce approach to strict liability. In California, if a defendant is not within the vertical chain of distribution, a defendant may still be held liable if the defendant received a direct financial benefit from the sale of the product and its activities, the defendant’s role was integral in bringing the product to the market, and the defendant controlled or had a substantial ability to influence the manufacturing or distribution process. The court held that there was a triable issue of material fact concerning whether Amazon received a direct financial benefit from its activities and sales of the product and whether its role was integral to the business enterprise. Thus, the appeals court reversed the decision to dismiss the case and sent the case back to the trial court.

imgonline-com-ua-twotoone-pBIySkCoGqFPV-300x151Two major recalls of tree trimming devices were issued by the United State Consumer Protection Commission (“USCPC”) on December 9, 2020, affecting over half-a-million devices sold by Fiskars Brands, Inc. and Black and Decker, Inc. under its Craftsman brand. Both products are designed to allow the user to trim tree branches otherwise inaccessible without a ladder or lift.

The first recall involves approximately 467,000 Fiskars 16 foot Extendable Pole Saw/Pruners. The device consists of a telescoping pole that can be adjusted between 7’ and 16’ and a head with a pruner and a hooked wood saw. The pole is improperly designed such that it can separate while the device is being used. The saw blade and pruners can then call down on the user, potentially causes serious injuries. As of the date of the notice, multiple consumers reported lacerations requiring stitches from the device’s failure.

Pruner-300x88Fiskar’s product was available for purchase between December 2016 and September 2020 for $100 (Model No. 9463) or $65 (Model Nos. 9440 and 9441). They devices were widely available at home improvement and hardware stores, as well as online direct from the seller at fiskars.com. Consumers are directed to stop using the product immediately and contact Fiskars Brands. The company will provide instructions on disposal of the defective device and provide a new one free of charge.

Soldier-200x300On July 28, 2020, a Florida federal court ruling breached the central defense against claims certain military earplugs were defective, damaging the ear and causing hearing loss. The lawsuits claim the earplugs were improperly designed, and did not completely block loud noises common to the military, such as gunfire and or the operation of heavy machinery or vehicles. Neumann Law Group has previously written about the earplug litigation, and you can read that article here.

The defendant, 3M, attempted to invoke the ‘government contractor defense,” a doctrine that would relieve it of any liability even if it were proven to have produced and sold a defective product to the military. The Supreme Court articulated the government contractor defense in Boyle v. United Technologies Corporation, 487 US 500 (1988), which involved a wrongful death complaint made against a company that produced military helicopters—the plaintiff alleged the escape system in the helicopter was poorly designed, causing the death of a pilot.

The jury in Boyle found that the manufacturer was in fact negligent when it designed the helicopter, but the Supreme Court would eventually uphold an appellate reversal of the verdict. It outlined the strong federal interest in military equipment and concluded those interests outweighed any state law claims, but only when the federal government gave reasonably precise specifications for the equipment, the equipment conformed to the specifications, and the supplier warned the federal government of the danger involved in using the equipment to the best of its knowledge.

Blood-Sugar-Reader-300x200The FDA announced February 11, 2020, that Medtronic recalled all 322,005 of its MiniMed insulin pumps in the United States. The agency issued a Class I Recall, which is the most serious type of recall reserved for situations where use of a medical device may cause serious injury or death. The recall comes on the heels of the first reported death caused by the device.

Insulin pumps regulate blood sugar in people with Type 1 diabetes. The device delivers small doses of short acting insulin continuously throughout the day, which replaces the traditional method of the patient periodically injecting him or herself with longer acting insulin. In operation, an insulin pump better recreates the function of a healthy pancreas.

The pump holds an insulin reservoir, from which insulin is slowly introduced into the body through a thin plastic tube that is permanently placed into the patient’s abdomen. The rate of flow is adjusted to maintain proper blood sugar levels. Insulin cartridges must be replaced periodically when the reservoir is depleted.

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