Out-Teching Products Liability: Reviving Strict Products Liability in an Age of Amazon

May 20, 2019

From humble beginnings as an internet start-up in the mid– 1990s, Amazon has transformed itself into the prodigious and omnipresent e-commerce Leviathan of the early twenty-first century, cashing in on a society and economy increasingly comfortable with — and dependent on — technology-based services. In addition to its recent forays into brick-and-mortar grocery stores, film and television production, fast-fashion, cloud computing, consumer data analytics, and delivery and logistics services, Amazon is most wellknown as the force behind a multi-billion dollar online marketplace where its own products are listed for sale next to products listed by third-party vendors.

Grievous injuries and property damage resulting from defective third-party products sold through Amazon’s marketplace have been the issue of a number of recent lawsuits alleging strict products liability against Amazon itself. The courts that heard these cases refused to extend strict liability to Amazon, but this recent development argues that these decisions run afoul of the spirit of the American strict products liability regime that emerged in the mid– twentieth century. American courts recognized that the imposition of strict liability on manufacturers, distributors, and retailers alike for injuries caused by defective products that they placed into the consumer marketplace had multiple desirable social purposes that warranted shifting the loss from consumers to members of the distribution chain.

After briefly surveying the history and intent behind the original American strict products liability regime, this recent development explores how Amazon “out-teched” products liability in four recent cases and considers why the current standard of negligence is insufficient to protect consumers in the modern economy. It concludes with an explanation of how and why courts should refocus their jurisprudence on the original policy goals expressed in the seminal products liability cases of the mid-twentieth century.

  • Author: Ryan Bullard
  • Cite: Ryan Bullard, Out-Teching Products Liability: Reviving Strict Products Liability in an Age of Amazon, 20 N.C. J. L. & Tech. On. 181 (2019), //ncjolt.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2019/05/Bullard_Final.pdf.
  • PDF: //ncjolt.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2019/05/Bullard_Final.pdf
  • Volume: Volume 20, Online Edition