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In a strict product liability action, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has made clear that courts later tasked with determining whether an actor is a seller should consider whether the following four factors apply: (1) Whether the actor is the only member of the marketing chain available to the injured plaintiff for redress; (2) Whether imposition of strict liability upon the actor serves as an incentive to safety; (3) Whether the actor is in a better position than the consumer to prevent the circulation of defective products; and (4) Whether the actor can distribute the cost of compensating for injuries resulting from defects by charging for it in his business, i.e., by adjustment of the rental terms.
Heather Oberdorf bought a dog collar on Amazon.com. While out on a walk with her dog, the dog unexpectedly lunged, causing the D-ring on the collar to break and the retractable leash to recoil back and hit Oberdorf’s face and eyeglasses, resulting in permanent blindness in Oberdorf’s left eye. Consequently, Oberdorf sued Amazon.com, including claims for strict products liability and negligence. The District Court found that, under Pennsylvania law, Amazon was not liable for Oberdorf's injuries. According to the District Court, Amazon was not subject to strict products liability claims because Amazon was not a seller under Pennsylvania law. The District Court further found that Oberdorf's claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because she sought to hold Amazon liable for its role as the online publisher of third-party content. Oberdorf challenged the decision.
2) Yes, with regard to some of her claims.
The Court held that Amazon was a "seller" for purposes of the Second Restatement of Torts § 402A and thus, under Pennsylvania law, was strictly liable for consumer injuries caused by defective goods purchased on the company's website because the company remained the only member of the marketing chain available to the injured plaintiff for redress, the company was fully capable, in its sole discretion, of removing unsafe products from its website, and the potential for continuing sales encouraged an on-going relationship between the company and the third-party vendors. Anent the second issue, the Court held that the Communications Decency Act (CDA) barred some, but not all, of Oberdorf’s claims. According to the Court, the claims that Amazon failed to provide or to edit adequate warnings regarding the use of the dog collar were barred by the CDA because that activity fell within the publisher's editorial function. The company failed to add necessary information to content of the website. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part.