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Amazon isn’t liable for vendor’s caffeine product that killed teen, state supreme court rules

  On October 1st, in the Stiner v. Amazon, Inc case the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Amazon can’t be held liable for the death of a teenager from caffeine powder sold by one of its vendors claiming that “Amazon isn’t a supplier per se under the state’s product liability law because they couldn’t possibly have control over the product. Under the claim that since Amazon never had clear possession of the caffeine powder and never actually touched the product, Judge Judith French declared they could not be held accountable. Tenkoris LLC, a third-party vendor on Amazon, did NOT participate in a “fulfillment by Amazon” program in which Amazon stores the vendor’s product, then packages and ships it to buyers. However, in a California appellate case decision in August the court 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 had sold the product through a company named “TheBulkSource” with an agreement signed by Tenkoris stating that the company was obligated to “source, sell, fulfill, ship and deliver” the product to the customer. After searching on Amazon using the term “pre-workout Logan Stiner, age 18 and his friend purchased the “Hard Rhino powder”. Stiner died ingesting the product. After Logan’s death, his father filed a lawsuit in Lorain County against Amazon, its affiliated companies, K.K., Tenkoris, a Chinese company that made the powder, and a company that imported the powder to the United States. All the parties from the case except Amazon were dismissed. The plaintiff, Stiner’s father, 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.” Amazon requested summary judgment from the trial court, maintaining that it was not liable for Logan’s death under any of the 12 legal arguments Stiner presented. The trial court agreed and granted Amazon a favorable summary judgment. Stiner also urged the Court to consider the “policy objectives” of Ohio’s product liability law, noting that the Court in prior cases adopted the view that the “burden of accidental injuries caused by products intended for consumption be placed on those who market them,” and that common-law product liability principles should shift the “costs of injuries away from consumers.” The Court stated that given the “clear statement of legislative intent” from the act, the law does not allow it to consider Stiner’s policy argument. “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 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. Amazon never had physical possession or control of the caffeine powder that led to a Lorain County teen’s death, so the company cannot be held liable for the substance’s purchase from a vendor through Amazon’s website.   If you have questions about product liability, contact us for a free and thorough assessment of your product before you use or produce anything.
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