Amazon Under Fire

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Have you ever purchased something from Amazon, only to have it break apart or disappoint you in some way? What was your reaction? You probably thought about asking for a return, but did you ever think about suing the company that shipped it to you?

Well, one Pennsylvania woman thought exactly that when a dog leash she purchased on Amazon malfunctioned. It snapped back and partially blinder her, and she is now taking the case to court.

The Case Against Amazon

Heather Oberdorf, the woman at the center of the suit, has a fairly standard claim against Amazon. While walking her dog, the $19 leash she bought snapped and sprang back toward her, damaging her left eye. If Amazon itself had sold the product, the result would be straightforward: the court would likely hold Amazon liable and compensate Oberdorf.

Unfortunately for Oberdorf, it was a third party, “The Furry Gang,” that sold the leash, and not Amazon itself. While she sued both parties in the original suit, her lawyers could not locate representatives for the Furry Gang. Therefore, Amazon became the center of the suit.

At question is a 1996 law, the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which Amazon claims protects it from liability for third party products. But the third circuit court begged to differ:

“Amazon’s involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function; it plays a large role in the actual sales process,” Judge Jane Richards Roth commented, speaking for the majority. “To the extent that Oberdorf’s negligence and strict liability claims rely on Amazon’s role as an actor in the sales process, they are not barred by the CDA.”

Why This Matters

Though it can be tough to tell through all the legal jargon, this ruling could be massive. If a higher court were to uphold such a ruling, it could significantly affect Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other tech giants. That is because these companies have tended to use the CDA as a blanket protection for business done on their website. If a third party lists the product or service, the Big Tech companies believe the CDA protects them.

Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn Lawyer who has sued tech companies in the past, explained to MarketWatch that lawmakers originally designed the CDA “to protect online bulletin boards from defamation lawsuits.” However, over time, courts interpreted the law so expansively that “Big Tech seemed beyond the reach of our judicial system. It’s become a government handout to the industry least in need.”

With Amazon’s reach and resources, no one has decided this case for good yet. They will continue to fight for their own rights, and continue to hope the CDA protects them. If a higher court upholds this decision, though, it could have potentially sweeping consequences for these Big Tech giants.

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