Product Liability Law

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Amazon.com Inc. can’t be held liable for the death of a teenager from caffeine powder sold by one of its vendors, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The court said Amazon isn’t a “supplier” under the state’s product liability law because it didn’t have control over the product, Court News Ohio reports.

“Amazon never had possession of the caffeine powder and never physically touched the product,” Judge Judith French wrote in the Oct. 1 decision.

The vendor, Tenkoris, did not participate in a “fulfillment by Amazon” program in which Amazon stores the vendor’s product, then packages and ships it to buyers.

The facts were different in a California appellate decision in August that found that Amazon could be strictly liable for an exploding battery. In that case, the vendor did participate in the “fulfillment by Amazon” program.

In the Ohio case, Amazon never had possession or control of the product, Hard Rhino Pure Caffeine Powder. Tenkoris sold the product through a storefront called TheBulkSource. Under an agreement signed by Tenkoris, the company was obligated to “source, sell, fulfill, ship and deliver” the product to the purchaser.

The teen, Logan Stiner, died in 2014 at age 18 after ingesting the Hard Rhino powder. His friend had purchased the product after searching Amazon using the term “pre-workout.”

Stiner’s father, the plaintiff, had cited the Ohio Products Liability Act. The law makes a supplier liable for a defective product when it “sells, distributes, leases, prepares, blends, packages, labels or otherwise participates in the placing of a product in the stream of commerce.”

The Ohio Supreme Court said the phrase “otherwise participates” must be read in conjunction with the list that preceded it. The activities on the list all involve some act of control over a product or preparation of a product for use or consumption.

“Based on the understanding that placing a product in the stream of commerce requires some act of control over the product, we conclude that Amazon should not be held liable as a supplier under the Ohio Products Liability Act,” the court said.

The court cited other cases in agreement, including a decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati involving a defective hoverboard sold on the Amazon website.

The case is Stiner v. Amazon.com Inc.