After a solar generator caused a house fire, American Family wants Amazon to pay


American Family Mutual Insurance Co. wants Amazon to pay the cost of repairing a Minnesota home that was damaged by a solar generator purchased through the e-commerce platform.

The insurer claimed in a lawsuit filed August 2 that Amazon is liable for the damage because it sold an allegedly defectively designed and manufactured solar-powered portable power station. American Family alleged the online retailer “played a direct role in the promotion and sale of the generator” and received a fee from the homeowner’s 2019 purchase.

According to the Law360 web site, which reported the lawsuit, the question of Amazon’s liability for selling allegedly defective products is unsettled.

For example, the Texas Supreme Court said in June that Amazon is not a “seller” under Texas product liability law. In its decision, the court held that Amazon cannot be considered a seller because it only controls the transaction and shipping and holds no title to the products sold through its platform.

Last November, however, California’s highest court ruled that Amazon could be liable for selling allegedly defective batteries through is online marketplace, even though another court sided with the online retailer a week earlier.

And Law360 said that in an unpublished ruling, a federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.’s lawsuit over a fire caused by an allegedly defective hoverboard. The Ninth Circuit found that a lower court properly applied Arizona’s liability laws in finding that Amazon only provides services to connect customers to vendors.

In the Minnesota case, a homeowner in November 2019 bought a 400 W Aeiusny-made solar generator through his Amazon Prime subscription. The generator later caused a fire at the residence, and American Family paid more than $75,000 to repair the damage.

The insurer said an investigation showed that three cells in the generator ruptured after experiencing a thermal runaway, which can occur when lithium-ion batteries generate too much heat.

American Family is arguing that Amazon is liable as the generator’s commercial seller because the manufacturer is based in China and not subject to jurisdiction in Minnesota.

The case is American Family Mutual Insurance Co. v. Inc., case number 0:21-cv-01749, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

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