Canadians are turning to e-commerce (or online shopping) more than ever – according to Statistics Canada, e-commerce sales increased by 110.8% from 2016 to 2020 and showed no signs of slowing down. 

However, increased questions surrounding product liability and e-commerce come with increased online shopping. For example, can you pursue a product liability claim if you purchase a defective product from an online retailer? What happens if the retailer or manufacturer is outside Ontario (or Canada)? Below, we’ll address these questions by exploring online shopping and product liability claims.  

What is Product Liability? 

Consumers expect that the products they purchase will be safe and reliable. So, when a consumer purchases an item and suffers harm due to design, manufacturing defects, or other omissions, they can sue the manufacturer, vendor, or retailer for damages. 

In Canada, product liability is governed by the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, S.C. 2010, c. 21, as well as Ontario’s Sale of Goods Act, RSO 1990, c S.1. These two pieces of legislation set out the rights and responsibilities of manufacturers, distributors, and retailers regarding the safety of their products. 

Beyond Canada, product liability laws can vary significantly. For example, in the United States, product liability laws vary by state. 

What are Product Liability Claims? 

In a product liability claim, a consumer brings legal action against a manufacturer, vendor, or retailer for losses arising from defects or omissions. 

Some examples of common product liability claims include the following: 

  • Design defects: For example, if you are injured in a vehicle rollover that occurred (or was more likely to occur) due to a design defect. 
  • Manufacturing defects: For example, if you are injured by a seatbelt breaking due to a manufacturing defect. 
  • Failure to warn: For example, if you are injured after consuming medication that did not contain a warning regarding potential side effects or interactions. 

Product Liability and Online Shopping

There’s no denying that online has changed the way products are sold. Many Canadians regularly turn to online marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy to purchase anything from vitamins to musical instruments. 

However, online shopping has created new challenges in the product liability realm. For example, you might purchase a product from an online marketplace. That product may have been manufactured in another country. Further, despite purchasing through an online marketplace, your order may be fulfilled by a third party. How do you determine who is responsible for your losses in these cases? 

Product Liability and Canadian Online Retailers

Purchase a defective item or are otherwise harmed due to purchase from a Canadian online retailer. You may bring an action against the retailer – even if they source their products from overseas. 

Ontario’s Sale of Goods Act, RSO 1990, c S.1 requires that goods sold must be fit for a specific purpose and of merchantable quality. If a product fails to meet these conditions, the retailer will be held liable without the plaintiff having to prove fault or negligence. 

Alternatively, consumers can advance a product liability tort claim without relying on a breach of a specific warranty or term outlined in the Sale of Goods Act. In these cases, the consumer must prove: 

  • the negligent party owed a duty of care to the claimant; 
  • the negligent party breached the applicable standard of care; 
  • the injured party sustained damages; and
  • the damages were caused by the negligent party’s negligence. 

Product Liability and Online Marketplaces

If you purchase an item from an online marketplace (for example, Amazon or Etsy), where third-party sellers often sell products under the umbrella of a larger organization, advancing a product liability claim can become much more complex. For one, jurisdictional issues can make these types of cases especially complicated if one of the parties is in another country – to say nothing of locating or identifying the wrongful actors. 

While there isn’t much guidance in Canadian case law, a 2019 decision from the United States, Oberdorf v., Inc., 930 F.3d 136 (3d. Cir. July 17, 2019) (No. 18-1041), held Amazon liable for damages related to a defective product sold by a third party. While this case does not set a precedent in Canada, it may provide guidance when the time comes for a product liability claim related to online shopping enters the Canadian courts and suggests that there may be recourse for Canadian consumers who seek product liability damages from third-party sellers online. 

Product Liability and Online Shopping: Staying Safe

While online shopping offers never-before-seen convenience for Canadian consumers, it doesn’t come without risk. And, if a product liability claim arises from an online purchase, it can be difficult to determine who is liable or whether you can pursue a claim. 

Here are our tips for purchasing online – and dealing with a product liability claim relating to online shopping. 

  • Purchase from trusted sellers: Whenever possible, shop with trusted sellers. From a claim perspective, purchasing from Canadian sellers ensures added ease if your purchase results in a product liability claim. 
  • Do your research: Before clicking “Buy Now”, read the product description carefully and do your research. Online reviews can be a great indicator of a company’s reputation (and the quality of its products). 
  • Keep a paper trail: Hold on to your receipts (including your order confirmation, receipts, and shipping details)
  • If something goes wrong, get help: If you receive a defective product, or there appear to be any issues with the product you received, notify the seller, vendor, or manufacturer immediately to report the issue and seek a resolution. 
  • Seek medical attention if you are injured: If you are injured due to a defective product or omission, seek medical attention immediately and ensure you follow any recommended treatment plans. 
  • Consult a product liability lawyer for assistance with your claim: Regardless of where the seller or vendor is located, speak with an experienced product liability lawyer if you encounter any damage or losses relating to a defective product or omission. They will be able to advise you on your rights and determine the best course of action. 

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa for Assistance with Product Liability Claims 

Suppose a defective product or toy or a contaminated food product has injured you. In that case, you may be entitled to compensation for the losses you suffer, including pain and suffering, medical or other care costs, and loss of earnings. 

The personal injury lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP will help you achieve the maximum compensation for your product liability case. We provide our clients with the knowledge and resources required to make informed decisions about their claims. Call our office at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to discuss your matter with an experienced lawyer.


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