Products Liability Law Daily Amazon not liable for fire caused by allegedly defective blender because it never took title to the product
Thursday, December 5, 2019

Amazon not liable for fire caused by allegedly defective blender because it never took title to the product

By David Yucht, J.D.

The court considered Amazon to be more like a service provider than a product distributor and, therefore, not liable for a restaurant fire under New York law.

A federal district court in New York has dismissed an insurance company’s subrogation claims against (Amazon) for strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty in a case arising out of a restaurant fire allegedly caused by an allegedly defective blender sold by a third party through Amazon’s website. Amazon was not subject to claims under New York law because it was not a designer, manufacturer, or seller in the blender’s distribution chain (Philadelphia Indemnity Ins. Co. v., Inc., December 4, 2019, Hurley, D.).

A sushi restaurant that was a tenant in a strip mall which was owned by the insurance company’s subrogor, Niat Realty Corp., purchased a blender "via" Third-party sellers, not Amazon, developed the product detail page content for the blender that appeared on Amazon’s web site. The credit card purchase for this blender was processed by Amazon, and Amazon paid itself for its fees and remitted the balance to the seller. Amazon shipped the blender to the buyer. The blender was allegedly defective and caused a fire in the restaurant. The strip mall’s insurer sued Amazon under theories of strict products liability and negligence for any damage allegedly caused by the blender, as well as under a breach of warranty theory for making "certain express and implied warranties" about the blender. Amazon moved for summary judgment.

Distribution chain. Relying upon a 2018 opinion which also involved a New York lawsuit against Amazon—Eberhart v., Inc. 325 F. Supp. 3d 393 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) [see Products Liability Law Daily’s December 28, 2018 analysis]—the court granted Amazon’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed all claims by the insurer. In New York, while strict liability extends to "certain sellers," it "applies only to those entities that are within the distribution chain." The Eberhart court granted summary judgment in Amazon’s favor in a case involving a fire started by a coffeemaker. That court found that Amazon could not be strictly liable because it never took title to the product at issue, placing Amazon outside the chain of distribution. The Eberhart court found Amazon was not a distributor, but rather was a service provider. Consequently, Amazon was not subject to strict liability claims arising under New York law. Finding the reasoning in Eberhart persuasive, the court in the case at bar concluded that Amazon was entitled to summary judgment on the insurer’s strict liability claim.

Similarly, as with the strict liability claim, the Eberhardt court considered a claim for negligence and found that "[b]ecause Amazon did not manufacture, sell, or otherwise distribute the allegedly defective coffeemaker to Eberhart, it owed no duty to him with respect to that product." The same was true in the current case, the court said—Amazon did not owe the insurer (or the restaurant owner, who was the actual purchaser of the blender) a duty with respect to the allegedly defective blender. Accordingly, summary judgment was granted to Amazon on the insurer’s negligence claim. In addition, the insurer’s breach of warranty claim also failed because Amazon did not manufacture or sell the blender at issue.

The case is No. 2:17-cv-03115-DRH-AKT.

Attorneys: Daniel W. Coffey (Bowitch & Coffey, LLC) for Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co. Mark J. Volpi (Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin) for Amazon and Amazon.Com LLC.

Companies: Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co.; Amazon.Com LLC

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