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Is Amazon Liable for Injuries Caused by Dangerous “AmazonBasics” Products?

AmazonBasics, the private label brand selling more than 5,000 products ranging from kitchenware to tech accessories, has quickly gained popularity among Americans. Their products are cheap and accessible, yet there are many reports of items with severe defects that have unfortunately led to fires, explosions, smoking, melting, and electrical malfunctions resulting in injuries and other safety risks and endangerments. The Reiff Law Firm’s Philadelphia product liability attorneys explain how cases have been filed for these injuries and what you can do if you were injured by an AmazonBasics product.

AmazonBasics and Safety Concerns

Several reports from across the U.S. tell similar stories over the last six years, all stemming from AmazonBasics products. Citro, an Amazon shopper, and father, explained that his surge protector went up in flames near his baby’s nursery. Others complain of burns on their hands and legs from their AmazonBasics phone chargers, a USB cord that lit on fire in a parked car endangering a toddler, exploding batteries that resulted in chemicals spraying on someone’s face, and the list goes on.

When accidents with defective products like these happen, it is possible that user error could be responsible for a portion of the harm. However, when accidents recur again and again from the same product manufacturer, it is extremely unlikely that external factors are to blame. Rather, it is probable that there is a defect in the design or manufacturing of the product. This begs the question, is Amazon responsible for these injuries?

CNN Investigation Found Safety Risks in More than 70 AmazonBasics Products

CNN conducted investigations of safety concerns in connection to AmazonBasics, discovering at least 1,500 written reviews reporting dangerous malfunctions of various products. Consumers reported scorched outlets, burned furniture, melted battery chargers, and products catching fire to government regulators and as part of reviews on Amazon’s website. Since 2016, there have been more than 70 items that consumers have criticized as dangerous due to unexplained malfunctions, and many victims have demanded that the products be recalled entirely.

One reportedly dangerous product in particular was an AmazonBasics microwave, with more than 150 reviews claiming it is dangerous. CNN sent over a damaged microwave to researchers at The University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering for testing. Almost immediately, the engineers knew something was wrong, as the microwave was sparking and smoking. When testing was completed, the researchers found that the design of a panel allowed for the accumulation of food or grease, leading to a potential fire hazard. Engineering professor Michael Pecht reported this product to be a real risk and an even deeper safety problem. Furthermore, he noted, “most consumer electronic problems like these could be from poor manufacturing, cheap materials, and a lack of robust quality control.”

Amazon’s Response to Safety Risks and Reviews

Customers want to trust that the products they buy with the Amazon name on them are safe and well manufactured, yet people are justifiably losing faith, especially those injured by these dangerous and defective products. Furthermore, Amazon has provided a minimal amount of information to the public regarding allegations that their products are hazardous.

Despite the amount of customer complaints on the defective microwave, Amazon has held that they are confident the microwave is safe and that it meets all of the applicable safety requirements. They have claimed safety to be a top priority through their selection of experienced manufacturers, their process of reviewing customer feedback, and their product testing standards. Nonetheless, the microwave remained up for purchase for months following various complaints explicitly stating it was a fire hazard. The surge protector that lit on fire was also still available on amazon.com for nearly two years following the incident Citro had described, despite his review, and despite 40 others corroborating the claim that it was a hazard. In fact, 30 products that were flagged for being fire hazards remain for sale on Amazon today.

As CNN began to report on and investigate the surge protector, Amazon removed it from the site, despite the fact that it still had a rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars. Amazon did not reach out to any costumers or CNN reporters, nor did they give an explanation for why it was removed. At the time when CNN began reporting, 11 products with safety hazard reviews were no longer for sale, with four product pages removed from the site leading to dead URLs, also called “dog pages.”

What is the Consumer Product Safety Commission?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an agency of the United States Government aimed at promoting consumer product safety by addressing “unreasonable risks” of injury. Businesses are required under the Consumer Product Safety Act to immediately report “potentially hazardous” products in which the agency will determine whether the item needs to be recalled.

Complaints about AmazonBasics products covering at least eight different products dating back to 2012 have been officially reported to the CPSC. Amazon has publically recalled two items in 2018 and 2019, claiming to have proactively notified the CPSC of its investigation and intent to recall the items. With the exception of the two recalled items, Amazon has not conceded that their products have any safety issues.

Manufacturing and Liability in Product Injury Cases

Product liability cases are incredibly complicated, and proving a product was a safety risk will require a lot of investigation. If you sustained an injury by a defective product sold on Amazon, the first thing you should do is ensure that you preserve the product. It is important that you do not throw it away or send it back to Amazon for an investigation. Many people who do this never hear back and lose a valuable piece of evidence. It will help build a strong case if you have the product in your possession.

Another reason that cases involving Amazon are complicated is that Amazon does not manufacture its own products. The majority of AmazonBasics products are manufactured in Asia, with nearly half being produced in China. A former Amazon product manager explained that for an AmazonBasics item to go on the market, it will take one of two paths. In some cases, Amazon will work directly with the manufacturers that meet their standards. Otherwise, they find a third-party company, which may use a separate outside manufacturer, in order to brand the item with the AmazonBasics name.

Any party in the product’s chain of distribution can be liable for a product determined to be defective. This means that the product manufacturer, the manufacturer of the component parts, the party that assembles or installs it, the wholesaler, or the retail store that sold it can be deemed liable. The defect can lie in the design of the product – an inherent flaw even before manufacturing – in the manufacturing – the assembly of the item – or in the marketing – such as insufficient safety warnings.

Establishing product liability requires legal assistance, as each state has its own relevant laws and statutes. If you or a loved one was injured by a defective AmazonBasics product, you may be able to recover compensation by filing a product liability claim. It may be wise to have an experienced product liability attorney protecting your interests and building your case.

Previous Amazon Injury Cases

In 2017, a 20-year-old man named Parra was sleeping when his chair in his apartment caught on fire. His AmazonBasics phone charger short-circuited and ignited the upholstery on his chair. He was hospitalized for a day, was left with damage to his apartment, and suffered from second-degree burns and further throat injuries from smoke inhalation. In 2019, Parra sued Amazon for his injuries, resulting in a settlement. The type of cord that caught fire in January 2017 was still available for purchase until June, despite the many warning from other customers at least a year before the fire.

Though some early court decisions have held that Amazon is not liable because their products are being sold from third-party sellers, more recent court decisions have pushed back on Amazon. In 2016, the Fox family’s house caught on fire from the exploding battery in a hoverboard toy, destroying the house and forcing two teenage children to jump out from the second floor to save themselves. They sued Amazon for the property damage, long-term injuries, and psychological damage, resulting in a settlement. The settlement amount has not been disclosed. Although Amazon won the first rounds of a later product liability lawsuit, an appeals court ruled that Amazon must face claims of misrepresentation and consumer fraud for failing to warn the Fox family and other buyers of the dangers of the hoverboard toy. Amazon investigated the toy, removed it from the site, but failed to inform 250,000 other buyers of the danger. Though Amazon still insists the Chinese manufacturer and the third-party seller are at fault, the ruling is promising

Another product injury case in Pennsylvania offers further promise that Amazon can be held accountable for its defective products. Heather Oberdorf was blinded in one eye by a defective retractable dog leash sold by Amazon. The federal court in Philadelphia ruled that Amazon was party liable because “its business model allowed third-party vendors to conceal themselves from consumers.”

Along the same lines, in a Texas court case, McMillan v. Amazon.com, a new precedent was set involving Amazon and their responsibility involving third party vendors. The plaintiff’s 19-month-old daughter swallowed a battery that fell out of a device sold by a third party vendor, leading to permanent injuries. The court held that Amazon qualifies as a seller under Texas law because it had control over the sale, was an essential part of the distribution chain, and was involved in placing the device onto the market.

Our Product Liability Lawyers are Here for You

The Reiff Law Firm has over 35 years of experience handling complicated product liability cases, and our lawyers are here to fight for you. We are committed to our clients, who are entitled to compensation for the negligence that led to their injuries. The defective products do not need to be 100% at fault for your injuries for you to seek compensation, and it can be helpful to have the guidance of a seasoned attorney familiar with the product liability law. If you or a family member was severely injured by an AmazonBasics product, call our Philadelphia injury attorneys at (215) 709-6940 to schedule a free consultation for your product liability case.

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