Landmark Opinion Opens Legal Door In Amazon Burn Lawsuit

Jun 1, 2022 | Firm News, Personal Injury, Product Liability

amazon

In an Amazon burn lawsuit, a federal judge’s landmark opinion has opened a legal door for consumers injured by dangerous products sold on its marketplace. 

Previously, in 2021, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in Amazon v. McMillan, 625 S.W.3d 101 (Tex. 2021), that Amazon was not a “seller” under Texas law for products listed by third parties. As a result, this ruling held that Amazon couldn’t be held strictly liable for harms caused by products sold on its marketplace if the product was not sold directly by Amazon.

In recent developments, a federal court in Texas ruled that a woman who suffered severe burn injuries in 2019 from a heating pad sold on Amazon.com may continue with a negligent undertaking claim.

Patrise Williams, the plaintiff, initially sued Amazon for strict liability, however, following the decision in Amazon v. McMillan, Williams’ attorney, Emily Vechan of Williams Hart & Boundas Boundas LLP, believed that plaintiff could allege a viable negligent undertaking claim under Texas law. Judge Keith P. Ellison of the Southern District of Texas agreed and denied Amazon’s Motion to Dismiss. 

Victim Suffers Serious Burn Injury 

Williams and her son believed they could find a better-quality product on Amazon’s website than on other online marketplaces and trusted Amazon’s robust communication system maintained with its account holders (ex: price change and availability alerts). 

The plaintiff’s son allegedly purchased a Blusmart Soft Heating Pad, designed and manufactured by three Chinese companies, in 2018. In January 2019, a consumer posted a negative review on Amazon’s site, claiming that Blusmart’s control module overheated and caused a burn. 

Williams was using the product in July 2019 when it became extremely hot and left severe burns around her hip area, resulting in a four-day hospital stay, surgical intervention, and significant scarring.

The plaintiff says she and her son “never imagined Amazon would have allowed dangerous products like the Blusmart Heating Pad to be available for sale on its website…because Amazon had heavily promoted its own image as a safe and trustworthy company.”

Judge’s Landmark Opinion Allows for Negligent Undertaking Claim

Until now, the e-commerce giant has shrugged off responsibility for consumer protection and actively courted unreliable Chinese vendors to sell dangerous products on their platform with their stamp of approval. The plaintiff alleges that Amazon was aware that their Chinese sellers represented a significantly high proportion of the problem listings found on Amazon’s website, but U.S. consumers were kept in the dark”.

And, unlike in other countries, there are no requirements for Amazon to disclose where the product was manufactured in its product listing to its U.S. consumers.

In 2019, the company announced its $400-million investment in proactive measures to ensure the products offered on its marketplace are safe, compliant, and authentic. Those measures include the effort to vet sellers, require safety documentation, scan existing product listings for concerning updates, investigate troubling reports, and notify customers of potential safety issues.

Williams alleged her understanding that if Amazon had learned the heating pad was dangerous, it would have investigated, alerted her, and removed the product from its marketplace. Amazon did none of those.

The judge found that, under Texas law, the plaintiff met the following requirements to plead a negligent undertaking claim:

  1. Amazon undertook to perform services that it knew or should have known were necessary for her protection,
  2. Amazon failed to exercise reasonable care in performing those services, and either
  3. The plaintiff relied upon Amazon’s performance, or Amazon’s performance increased her risk of harm. 

This landmark opinion paves another legal avenue for injured consumers to pursue damages from the e-commerce giant based on its provision of safety-related services for the benefit of individuals who use products purchased through Amazon’s marketplace. 

Through this legal door, holding Amazon accountable for its negligence is possible. Without the judge’s decision, Amazon may continue to mislead Americans and put them in harm’s way. 

Learn About Your Legal Options From Experienced Product Liability Attorneys

To demand accountability from massive corporations like Amazon, and other regulators of online marketplaces, you need an experienced product liability attorney who can accurately assess the role of the company in your injury and identify the best legal avenue for you to pursue damages under Texas state laws.

You may or may not have these options: 

  • Strict product liability
  • Negligent product liability
  • Breach of warranty
  • Negligent undertaking

If you’ve been injured by a dangerous product sold on an e-commerce marketplace like Amazon, our experienced product liability attorneys can help you get the compensation you deserve. Williams Hart & Boundas will fight to recover what you’ve lost due to negligent or dangerous business practices and hold the responsible parties accountable. 

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only. The provision of this material does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this newsletter are not a substitute for legal counsel. Do not take action in reliance on the contents of this material without seeking the advice of counsel.

The information contained in this blog may or may not reflect the most current legal developments. Accordingly, information in this blog is not promised or guaranteed to be correct or complete, and should not be relied upon as such. Readers should conduct their own appropriate legal research.

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