1. What is E-commerce Liability?
Broadly speaking, E-commerce liability refers to holding an e-commerce retailer responsible for products sold on its website, even those sold by third-party vendors.
2. What is an E-commerce Retailer (E-tailer)?
An e-commerce retailer or “e-tailer” sells or facilitates the sale of goods or services online. They also sometimes refer to themselves as “online marketplaces” or “peer-to-peer” sellers. The e-tailer can sell its own products or products from third-party vendors or manufacturers.
3. What do you Mean by Third-party Vendors?
Many e-commerce platforms allow people or businesses who are not directly affiliated with the platform to sell products on the platform. This “marketplace” model is one of the fastest growing segments of e-commerce retail.
4. Do E-tailers Sell Their Own Products?
Some, like Amazon, do but it depends on the business. E-tailers can sell their products or provide a platform for third parties to sell their products.
5. What is the E-tailer’s Involvement in the Sale of Products on its Website?
This varies a lot depending on the business. Some e-tailers are involved in every aspect of the sale, including processing payments, handling all communications, determining what products can be sold, and in some cases even storing the products. Others are much less involved and mostly just provide a means for sellers to reach buyers.
6. If I Get Hurt by a Product Purchased Online, Can I Sue the E-tailer?
That depends on a lot of different factors, including what state you bought the product in, who you bought it from, how involved the e-tailer was in the sale, and many other details. E-tailers have disrupted the traditional retail model and so making this determination is complex. If you believe you have a potential case, please contact me and I can help you determine your rights.
7. What do you Mean by Disrupted the Traditional Retail Model?
Although this is a bit of an oversimplification, in the past, new consumer products were generally made by a manufacturer, distributed in some way or another by a wholesaler, and then sold by a retailer. Although there were variations, it was usually not hard to figure out the role of each party to the chain of distribution. E-tailers, though, insert themselves into the chain and often take on many of the roles of manufacturer, distributor, or retailer, but not all of them. That can make it harder to determine who is the “seller” of a defective product.
8. Are Manufacturer Held Liable for Defective Products?
Generally, yes. Product liability law was created to protect people harmed by defective products and part of that involves holding the manufacturer of that product responsible for any damages it causes. But in today’s global economy, many product manufacturers are not located in the United States and holding them responsible can be very difficult. That is why product liability
law often allows an injured party to also seek a remedy from the seller or retailer of the defective product.
9. Are Brick-and-mortar Retailers Held to the Same Level of Accountability?
Product liability laws vary from state to state, so the answer to this question depends on where the retailer or e-tailer is located and where the injured consumer lives. Most states allow for some kind of liability on the part of brick-and-mortar retailers but many have restrictions on that liability.
10. What is the Current State of E-tailer Liability?
This area of law is changing quickly, so check back to this site for updates. At the moment, a few states have ruled e-tailers can be held responsible for injuries caused by products sold on their marketplaces, a few have ruled they can’t, and most states have not decided the question one way or the other.