Dog Owner Blinded by Leash Fights Amazon at Third Circuit

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — A woman who was blinded from an accident with a retractable dog leash urged the Third Circuit on Wednesday to revive her claims against Amazon for marketing a defective product.

Though it was the the leash that hit Heather Oberdorf in the face, breaking her eyeglasses and causing permanent vision loss in her left eye, the dog owner seeks to hold Amazon liable for selling her a collar whose failure she blames for the accident.

A resident of Milton, Pennsylvania, Oberdorf had bought the Dogaholics collar on Amazon from third-party seller The Fury Gangs just a month before her accident in January 2015.

She appealed to the Third Circuit after U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann granted Amazon summary judgment last December.

“The Amazon Marketplace serves as a sort of newspaper classified ad section, connecting potential consumers with eager sellers in an efficient, modern, streamlined manner,” Brann wrote.

At oral arguments Wednesday before a three-judge panel in Philadelphia, Lepley Engelman attorney David Wilk argued for Oberdorf that Amazon is much more of a seller than a newspaper ad.

“Amazon controls the sale process in its entirety,” said Wilk. “Consumers make a payment to Amazon and receive a receipt from Amazon.”

Amazon tapped Perkins Coie attorney Eric Miller to make its case, but U.S. Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth voiced surprise at the internet retailer’s efforts to deny responsibility.

“Amazon is big enough that if they want to make sure that a product is safely manufactured, I think they could do it very easily,” Judge Roth said.

Though Miller said the definition of a seller does not reach marketplace companies like Amazon, Judge Roth questioned how Amazon is any different than a consignment shop.

“Consignment stores have possession of the product,” said Miller. “Amazon is not the seller, it never possessed the product.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Patty Shwartz drew another parallel at the hearing, likening online shops to department stores.

“The first floor of Macy’s has all sorts of cosmetic counters of third-party sellers,” noted Judge Shwartz. “How is that not exactly what Amazon does?”

On rebuttal, Wilk asked the panel, which was rounded-out by U.S. Circuit Judge Anthony J. Scirica, to reverse the lower court’s decision and urged for Amazon to make its products safer.

“There are many ways Amazon can make products safer,” said Wilk. “If not Amazon, than who?”

It is unclear when the judges will reach a decision.

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