Angela Bolger was a loyal Amazon customer and had no reason to suspect an item she ordered could put her life in jeopardy. But everything changed after she ordered a replacement battery for her laptop. Out of the blue, several months after it arrived, the battery exploded and inflicted third-degree burns on her body.
Unsurprisingly, Angela sued Amazon for her injuries. But her case was no match for Amazon’s lawyers, and a lower court in California ruled that the company was not liable. It seems like the only way cases like this get settled these days is through class action suits. Tap or click here to see if you qualify for Apple’s exploding battery settlement.
Angela wasn’t about to give up just yet and appealed the ruling. And now, an appeals court has reversed the decision and argues that Amazon is actually liable for defective third-party products. This ruling will no doubt have huge repercussions down the road and may change the way Amazon handles third-party orders forever. Here’s why.
A huge reversal — and a win for consumers
Amazon suffered a significant legal blow thanks to an appeals court ruling in favor of a burn victim named Angela Bolger. Angela had ordered a replacement laptop battery from a mysterious third-party seller called “E-Life,” and was severely burned when the battery exploded months after her order was delivered.
Amazon defends that E-Life was banned from the platform, but Angela claims to have never received any warning about the safety of E-Life’s products. Although Angela’s initial lawsuit against Amazon was a nonstarter, the new ruling puts the e-commerce giant directly in the crosshairs of customers with product grievances.
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According to the appeals judge’s ruling, Amazon “was pivotal in bringing the product here to the consumer,” and “should be liable if a product on its website is defective.”
What does this mean for my orders going forward?
Previously, issues with Amazon orders shipped by third-party sellers were given a “hands-off” approach by the company. If you had a beef with the product, it would say, take it up with the seller, not Amazon.
But this ruling strikes a harsh blow at this logic, which Amazon has used to shield itself from malfeasance for years. But as of right now, this is only a single ruling. While you may have more recourse as cases like this one (and the many others Amazon has backlogged) make their way through the legal system, it may take time for new policies to be put into place.
Should I avoid ordering third-party products?
A lot of third-party sellers are honest people running small businesses and just looking to make a living. Then there’s the sketchy variety. Stay away from these types of products on Amazon’s Marketplace:
- Generic, noncertified chargers, cables and batteries — You get what you pay for, and that $5 charger replacement could end up being more trouble than it’s worth.
- No-name electronics and knockoffs — Don’t always assume budget Bluetooth speakers and headphones are a sure thing. They could be defective, dangerous or just plain counterfeit.
- Supplements — You could be buying fakes in this area, too, and that could lead to health risks.
- Random food — A lot of third-party vendors were found to be selling expired food, including chips, granola bars and even baby formula. Replace your socks on Amazon, but buy your beef jerky at the store.
But let’s say you buy from Amazon and need to return a defective item. Will there be a difference if you buy from a third-party seller? Well, as it turns out, there is a difference. And the main determining factor is whether or not the order is “fulfilled by Amazon.”
If a product says “fulfilled by Amazon” on the listing, this means Amazon itself handles all the logistics of getting it to you. In this case, it is, in fact, liable for returns.
If the third-party seller handles shipments, that means they can set some of the rules for their own returns. Most third-party sellers try to toe the line near what Amazon normally uses, but smaller and newer sellers may not offer the same benefits.
If you run into issues however, Amazon does have this to say:
Third-party sellers must either provide a return address within the United States, provide a prepaid return label, or offer a full refund without requesting the item be returned. If a seller does not offer these methods to return your items, you may file an A-to-z Guarantee claim to seek help with your return.Amazon return policy.
If you follow through with this step, you end up getting Amazon involved in your return. Consider this a “last resort” option in case your order doesn’t work out as you expect it. To file an A-to-Z claim, tap or click here.
Amazon continues to dominate the online retail sphere, but it’s not perfect by any means. In fact, so long as scammers and disreputable sellers persist on the platform, it has a lot of learning to do (and lawsuits to settle) before it can truly reach its potential.