The lawsuit in question, Loomis v Amazon.com, involves a hoverboard purchased on Amazon on November 28, 2015. The hoverboard allegedly caught fire after being plugged in to charge, burning the plaintiff as she fought the fire. The hoverboard was sold by a third party seller named TurnUpUp, which court documents say is a name used by Chinese company SMILETO to sell products on Amazon. Amazon moved for summary judgment in the lawsuit, claiming it didn’t fall within the chain of distribution for the purposes of product liability, and a trial court granted summary judgment. The appeal court decision reversed this judgment.

The plaintiff, in the appeal, contended that summary adjudication was improperly granted because Amazon participates in the product’s vertical distribution chain. Amazon disclaimed any liability, stating it is neither a seller or manufacturer of the hoverboard.

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The appeals court found that “we are persuaded that Amazon’s own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California’s strict liability doctrine.”

While Amazon asserted that it only provided an online website for TurnUpUp to sell goods on, the appeals court found “it is undisputed Amazon placed itself squarely between TurnUpUp, the seller and… the buyer, in the transaction at issue.”

The appeals court decision notes that the plaintiff looked through product listings on Amazon, and Amazon took her order and processed her payment, then transmitted the order to TurnUpUp. The decision also notes that when the plaintiff wanted to know if the hoverboard would arrive before Christmas, she had to communicate this question to Amazon, since TurnUpUp “was not allowed to communicate” with her directly. The decision notes that if she wanted to return the hoverboard, the return would have been “routed through Amazon.” The decision claims that Amazon remitted the plaintiff’s payment to TurnUpUp after deducting fees, including a 15 percent referral fee.

The decision claims these facts undermine Amazon’s assertion that it merely provides storefronts for sellers. The decision states that interacting with customers, taking orders, processing orders, collecting money and being paid a percentage of a sale “are consistent with a retailer or a distributor of consumer goods.”

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