Third Circuit Holds Online Retailers May Be Liable for Defective Third-Party Products Under Pennsylvania Product Liability Laws

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that online retailers such as Amazon could be held liable for allegedly defective third-party products sold through its website.
In a 2−1 panel decision in Oberdorf v. Amazon.com, Inc., — F.3d —, 2019 WL 2849153 (3d Cir. July 3, 2019), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling that Amazon was not a “seller” under § 402A of the Restatement Second of Torts, and therefore could be held strictly liable under Pennsylvania products liability law.

Pennsylvania has adopted Restatement Second of Torts § 402A, which “specifically limits strict products liability to ‘sellers’ of products.” Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether an online sales listing service such as Amazon Marketplace qualifies as a “seller” under § 402A, the district court was tasked with predicting what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would decide under Pennsylvania law.

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Does Pennsylvania Recognize Strict Liability Claims Against Medical Device Manufacturers? A Pennsylvania federal court calls the question.

For at least two decades, Pennsylvania law has recognized an exemption from strict liability for prescription drug manufacturers based on the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Restatement (Second) of Torts Sec. 402A cmt. k.  Comment k carves out an exception to traditional strict product liability claims for “unavoidably unsafe products,” or those which bear inherent risks—such as medicines which must be prescribed by a doctor.  A less settled question is whether that exemption extends to manufacturers of prescription medical devices, specifically regarding manufacturing defect claims.  On June 25, 2019, Judge Robreno of the U.S.D.C. Eastern District of Pennsylvania asked the Third Circuit to answer it.

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