Up until now, if you purchased a product from Amazon, Reverb or Ebay and it somehow caused you harm, you took your case directly to the manufacturer of the product. The big retail distributors were viewed as just neutral intermediaries in the sale. A recent ruling in a lawsuit that went against Amazon could change all that though, and it could mean that online gear purchases may become a lot more expensive as a result.
The case stemmed from a San Diego women who purchased a laptop battery from Amazon that exploded and caused her severe burns. Amazon claimed that it was the battery manufacturer that was to blame, but a court disagreed. It stated that since Amazon had stored the battery in its warehouses, received payment, shipped the product, and set the terms of its relationship with the third-party seller, it should also share in any liability as well.
The case is being appealed, but should the appeal be upheld it will probably mean several things. Amazon, Reverb, Ebay and even other online retailers like Sweetwater, B&H and Best Buy would have to become more selective in what they sell rather than incur a potential lawsuit. This means that it would harder to get certain items online that are now cheap and easy to find. They would also have to charge more to cover the increased liability insurance to protect themselves another lawsuit of this nature come to pass.
When it comes to musical instruments, most of them are pretty benign in terms of the potential for harm. But as soon as an item that requires AC power becomes involved, that changes the equation. Computers, amplifiers, accessories, and even software might be deemed too potentially legally volatile for an online retailer to carry.
In fairness, any of these developments would be some years away even in the worst case scenario. Amazon, Reverb (and their new owner Etsy) and Ebay have deep legal pockets and you know they’ll do whatever they have to in order to keep the status quo. We all want our gear purchases to be easy and as inexpensive as possible, so for once I’m in favor of the big guys winning here.