California Could Soon Make Amazon, Other Online Marketplaces Liable for Defective Products

Tami Abdollah

Tami Abdollah was dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.

California Could Soon Make Amazon, Other Online Marketplaces Liable for Defective Products

In the fall of 2016, Angela Bolger ordered a replacement battery for her HP laptop for $12.30 through Amazon Prime. Once it arrived at her San Diego home, she popped it in and then noticed a weird sound.

She flipped the laptop to her ear, then back over to her lap, and then "it suddenly exploded like a bomb, flaming melted battery shrapnel went everywhere. My bed was on fire, my floor was on fire, my room was like a warzone."

Bolger used a pillow to try to smother the flames, later realizing she was so severely burned she had to spend weeks in a hospital's burn unit and required extensive skin graft surgery for her arms and legs.

"My hands and feet were charred and blistered beyond belief," Bolger, a previous marathon runner, said. She told her story virtually, her voice laden with emotion, to California state lawmakers during a committee hearing last week.

California's Senate is expected to vote on a bill this week that, if passed, would be the first of its kind in the nation to hold Amazon and other online marketplaces strictly liable for defective third-party products sold on their websites, and give people like Bolger a method of recourse for defective products that isn't reliant on the courts.

Supporters say the measure is crucial to leveling the playing field for brick-and-mortar stores that are already liable for such products. But critics say that the bill places an unnecessary burden on small businesses and startups with tighter budgets to address such issues and compete while already under tremendous strain during a global pandemic.

The measure, AB 3262, authored by Assemblyman Mark Stone (D, Santa Cruz) has already passed the state Assembly with a 54-14 vote.

Bolger found that neither she nor Amazon could reach the Chinese company who sold her the defective battery and that though Amazon gave her her money back, and later warned users, it never did accept responsibility. She sought out recourse in the court system, which has, so far, handled such cases in one-off fashion.

California's 4th District Court of Appeal ruled this month in Bolger's case that Amazon can be held strictly liable for defective products sold to Californians via third-party vendors on its ecommerce site.

Amazon has argued that it shouldn't be held liable because it did not distribute, manufacture or sell the product. But the court noted that Amazon had made itself a crucial part of the supply chain, utilizing its warehouse, staff and materials to ship the product.

The idea, "is to ensure that when a product is sold in California, and someone is injured, that there is a remedy," Stone said.

Online marketplaces have "significant competitive advantage" over local, brick-and-mortar stores in communities and are leaving California consumers "in the lurch," Stone added.

The Internet Association, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group that represents Amazon and other internet companies, urged the state Senate to reject the measure.

"This law couldn't come at a worse time, as businesses still reeling from the pandemic have turned to online marketplaces, large and small, to reach customers, sell their products, and keep the lights on," said Dylan Hoffman, the association's director of California government affairs, in a statement to dot.LA. "Now is not the time to fundamentally alter the rules or increase costs for online commerce."

Chris Micheli, a representative of CompTIA, told legislators during the hearing this week that "this would be a first-in-the-nation bill" and multiple state legislatures have considered similar bills but rejected them.

"The ultimate result is these product providers, these websites, the service providers are all going to be subject to strict liability and substantial costs," Micheli said. "There's going to be a diminution in opportunities for consumers to purchase products and those that they do (will be) at a higher rate."

The state's leading small business advocacy group, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, also spoke out against the measure. Its representative called it a move that would have "serious consequences on small businesses throughout the state," which are already in peril due to the pandemic and rely on online marketplaces to sell their goods.

"To be clear, this bill places online marketplaces on equal footing with their brick-and-mortar counterparts when it comes to the issue of third-party sales," said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat from Santa Barbara and the state Senate Judiciary Committee's chair. "We have this whole new marketplace that's basically unregulated and this bill says that we're going to compare you, we're going to analogize you to a marketplace."

What is strict liability?

Strict liability has been around for more than 50 years, and reflects judicial concern that "the cost of injuries resulting from defective products are borne by the manufacturers that put such products on the market, rather than by the injured persons who are powerless to protect themselves," according to the state's Supreme Court. That policy has long been extended to retailers as well.

Does this apply to all websites and sales online?

The bill exempts auctioned and handmade goods as well as websites functioning more like classified ads to connect buyers with third-party sellers directly; for example, most sales off eBay, Craigslist and Etsy.

Who supports it?

The bill was authored by Assemblyman Mark Stone (D, Santa Cruz) and is co-sponsored by the Teamsters, the UFCW, and the Consumer Attorneys of California. The Consumer Federation of California, Consumer Reports, and the California Labor Federation also had representatives speak out in support.

Who is against it?

The Internet Association, California Grocery Assn., Net Choice, California Chamber of Commerce, Etsy and eBay unless it is amended, the Western Growers Assn., the California Retailers Assn., the Civil Justice Assn. of California, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Techmet, CompTIA, the National Federation of Independent Businesses.


Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @latams. You can also email me at tami(at), or ask for my contact on Signal, for more secure and private communications.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand
Provided by BHE

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Three Wishes founder and CEO Margaret Wishingrad talks about creating brand awareness and shares the key component to running a successful business.

Read moreShow less

‘Commerce at The Curb’: LA’s Rideshare Debate Heats Up

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Connie Llanos, Jordan Justus and Gene Oh
Justin Janes, Vizeos Media

Three years ago, Los Angeles went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, cities like L.A. are struggling to hold on to pandemic-era transportation and infrastructure changes, like sidewalk dining and slow streets, while managing escalating demand for curb space from rideshare and delivery.

At Curbivore, a conference dedicated to “commerce at the curb” held earlier this month in downtown Los Angeles, the topic was “Grading on a Curb: The State of our Streets & Cities in 2023,” a panel moderated by Drew Grant, editorial director for dot.LA.

Read moreShow less