Amazon once again held strictly liable in products liability case

Bolger v. Amazon, Superior Court No. 37-2017-00003009-CU-PL-CTL, August 13, 2020

This time, in connection with its fulfillment of an order for a laptop battery, that subsequently exploded, severely injuring the Plaintiff Bolger.  Recall in Oberdorf v. Amazon, strict liability was found for an eye injury at the hands of a retractable leash, ordered on Amazon.

In this case, Bolger purchased a replacement laptop battery on Amazon.  The Amazon listing identified the seller as E-Life, a DBA used by Lenoge Technology Ltd.  As summarized the by the Court:

Amazon charged Bolger for the purchase, retrieved the laptop battery from its location at an Amazon warehouse, prepared the battery for shipment in Amazon-brnaded packaging, and sent it to Bolger.

Bolger sued Amazon, the manufacturer, amongst others asserting strict products liability, negligent products liability, breach of implied warranty, breach of express warranty and negligent undertaking.  As in Oberdorf, Amazon moved for summary judgement, again arguing that the doctrine of strict liability did not apply to it because it did not manufacture, distribute or sell the product in question.  Instead, Amazon argued, it merely served the function of providing an “online marketplace” wherein E-Life (Lenoge) opted to sell their goods.  The trial court agreed, and Bolger appealed.

The California Court of Appeals reversed.  After a detailed analysis that resulted in the conclusion that Amazon was “pivotol in bringing the product to the consumer”, the Court proceeded with an analysis of whether to expand the scope of strict liability to encompass the transaction at issue.  Ultimately, the Court held:

Amazon is a direct link in the chain of distribution, acting as a powerful intermediary between the third-party seller and the consumer.  Amazon is the only member of the enterprise reasonably available to an injured consumer in some cases, it plays a substantial part in ensuring products listed on its website are safe, it can and does exert pressure on upstream distributors (like Lenoge) to enhance safety, and it has the ability to adjust the cost of liability between itself and its third-party sellers…Strict liability here “affords maximum protection to the injured plaintiff and works no injustice to the defendants, for they can adjust the costs of such protection between them in the course of their continuing business relationship.