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laptop battery fire Kathleen Cancel of Farmingdale, N.J., purchased a battery for her daughter’s computer on July 31, 2016. On Sept. 9, 2016, after the laptop was left sitting on her daughter’s bed, a fire started. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A federal judge in New Jersey has ruled that Amazon.com can’t be held liable as the seller of a laptop battery that allegedly caught fire and destroyed the customer’s home.

Losses from fire

In a suit brought by Allstate to recoup its losses from the fire, the judge found that Amazon can’t be considered a seller of the product under the New Jersey Product Liability Act because the company’s involvement in the sale was minimal.

According to the decision, the customer ordered the battery from Amazon’s website, and Amazon’s name appeared on her credit card statement for the $12 purchase. The battery was shipped from an Amazon warehouse in Virginia, after an Amazon employee retrieved it from a shelf and prepared it for shipping — with a cardboard box and tape that both bore Amazon’s logo.

Related: 5 aspects of successful subrogation programs

But, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson said, Amazon never took ownership of the battery, which was sold by a Hong Kong company called E-life that is not subject to service of process in the U.S.

Allstate, which brought suit seeking to recover money it paid out in insurance claims on the fire, said Amazon met the definition of a seller under New Jersey’s products liability statute.

But Wolfson on Tuesday granted Amazon’s motion for summary judgment, finding it did not meet the definition of seller because it did not decide what product to sell; nor did it procure the product from the manufacturer or upstream distributor, or ensure that it complied with applicable laws.

Amazon’s business model

The case sheds light on Amazon’s business model, which involves three types of transactions with consumers, according to the decision.


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