United States Appeals Court Analyzes Role of Seller in Maryland Product Liability Action

If you have been injured by a defective product, you may have legal recourse.  In Maryland, sellers and manufacturers may be held liable for putting a defective product into the hands of a consumer.  A Maryland products liability action may be brought under theories of negligence, breach of warranty, or strict liability.  In a recent opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals considered whether Amazon could be held liable under Maryland law for damage caused by a defective product sold on its website.

The consumer in the case had purchased an LED headlamp on Amazon’s website as a gift to his friends.  The headlamp’s batteries apparently malfunctioned, igniting the friends’ house and causing over $300,000 in damages.  The company that insured the house brought a subrogation action against Amazon, alleging products liability claims under Maryland law.

In Maryland, a products liability action arising from breach of warranty, negligence, or strict liability may be brought against the seller of a defective product.  A “seller” includes a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, wholesaler, other middleman, or the retailer.  The plaintiff must show three elements in a Maryland products liability action: (1) a defect; (2) attribution of the defect to the seller; and (3) a causal relationship between the defect and the injury to the plaintiff.  The defect must be shown to exist at the time the product left the seller (whether manufacturer, distributor, or retailer), or at the time the sale was made.

The primary question in the case was whether Amazon qualified as a “seller” for purposes of a Maryland product liability action.  In considering the issue, the court reasoned that insofar as liability for a defective product in Maryland is put upon the sellers, liability is essentially imposed on the owners of the specific item, who then transfer title to the purchaser of the item for a price.  As such, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and dealers, who own and have title to the products during the chain of distribution, are all sellers under Maryland product liability law.  Persons who do not take title to products during the course of the distribution, such as brokers, shippers, marketers, auctioneers, consignees, and others facilitating the distribution or sale of the product, are not sellers.

When applying its analysis to the instant case, the court found that Amazon provided fulfillment services, during which Amazon was in possession of the headlamps for distribution, but not receive title to them.  Rather, the third-party vendor, identified as the seller on the website, was in fact the seller of the headlamp.  Accordingly, the court held that Amazon, in this particular transaction, was not a seller and therefore did not have liability under Maryland law for the defective product sold on its website.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland products liability attorneys have the dedication and skill to litigate complex cases on behalf of plaintiffs and negligence victims.  We can provide advice and legal representation to people who have been injured due to medical malpractice, careless drivers, negligent businesses or property owners, and other accidents.  If you are seeking legal recourse after an injury, contact Foran & Foran online or call (301) 441-2022 and request a free consultation to discuss your options.