California’s Proposition 65 requires manufacturers and retailers doing business in the state to warn consumers when their product contains dangerous chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm. In a time when millions of us rely on Amazon for much, if not most, of our shopping needs, a recent ruling by the state supreme court should make residents feel more confident that the things they buy are safe.
The underlying case has to do with a skin lightening cream that contained mercury at levels thousands of times the legal limit in this country. Consumers sued Amazon for failing to warn them about this dangerous cream. The suit was dismissed in 2019 when the judge ruled that Amazon was protected by a federal law that protects websites from liability over products produced by other companies.
Amazon’s role is not unlike that of a pharmacy, court rules
But the plaintiffs appealed the adverse ruling. In March, a state court of appeals reverse the lower court ruling and determined that the federal law protecting websites from liability did not apply. The court ruled that Amazon did not act as a passive site for the cream makers to sell the cream. Instead, the facts showed that Amazon actively stored, sold and shipped the toxic cream to consumers. If Amazon were a drug store that sold the cream on its shelves, Proposition 65 would definitely apply, the court concluded.
Now the California Supreme Court has upheld the appellate court’s decision. This means the plaintiffs will have the chance to seek compensation for injuries associated with the mercury-filled skin cream.
Potentially national consequences
The ruling that retail websites like Amazon must abide by Proposition 65 technically applies only in California. But because of the state’s huge population and market share, it could change Amazon’s consumer protection policies nationwide.
That could protect millions of people from unsafe products. But once someone has been exposed and sickened or hurt by a defective product, they might have to seek compensation in court.