Hank just wanted a Sunday boat ride on the river behind his house in northeast Alabama after an afternoon of chores. He grabbed the canoe cart he’d just bought through Amazon.com to help get his canoe to the river. Hank was disappointed to see that the tires mounted on plastic rims were both flat. He grabbed his air compressor but the tire valve was at such an awkward angle, the air chuck wouldn’t go on. One cotter pin and Hank had the tire off.

Hank held the tire against his stomach to hold the valve and air the tire. Hank immediately heard a “Bang” and realized the tire exploded. The force from the rim exploding almost knocked him off his feet. The sound was deafening. A large piece of the shattered plastic wheel launched into Hank’s abdomen like a shot.

Soon Hank was being life-flighted to a hospital fighting for his life. The surgeon saved Hank’s life but the damage was done.

Hank purchased the canoe cart that almost killed him through Amazon.com. We learned an importer in California brought the canoe cart into the US and arranged the sales listing through Amazon.com. 

Debranski & Associates Steps in to Assist

Hank hired Debranski & Associates, LLC to file suit. I found counsel in Alabama to associate and we filed in the Northern District of Alabama.

Amazon hired counsel who answered stating they were shielded from any liability due to Alabama’s statute on product liability and their own user agreements. Amazon showed no remorse or sympathy for Hank for selling a defective product that almost killed him.

Unfortunately, Amazon was correct. Alabama’s AEMLD statute, like many other similar statutes, shield a seller from liability if they weren’t involved in its manufacture or design. In short, as a mere reseller, Amazon had no legal responsibility for selling a defective product.

We also sued the distributor who imported the defective Canoe Cart.  Through discovery, we found out the distributor purchased the Canoe Cart from a Chinese company called Qingdao King Farmer Ltd. We then amended the complaint to bring in Qingdao.

Again, we had to show that the distributor somehow was involved in design and or manufacturing the canoe cart. Through discovery and depositions of their personnel in Southern California, we were unable to find a link to their manufacturing the Canoe Cart.  Unfortunately, based on the law, we had to let the distributor out of the case as well.

As we discussed, we added a company from China, Qingdao KIng Farmer Co. Ltd., to the lawsuit as the manufacturer of the defective canoe cart.  Suing a foreign company requires service of process through the processes set forth in the Hague Convention.  This is no easy task.  In fact it was slow and painstaking. We first had to determine where in China Qingdao was. Then we had to translate the case into the proper Chinese language and amend the complaint adding the translation. Then we had to send the service package to the Chinese Central Authority and wait.  We waited a long time.

In the meantime, I had email discussions with somebody who purported to be a principal of Qingdao. They refused to cooperate.

Eventually, after several attempts, we got Qindgao served in Hong Kong through their version of a registered agent. Qingdao never filed an answer.

Finalizing the Case: Justice for Hank

At the default hearing, the judge awarded Hank a total of $7,280,000.00. The judge commented that it was as if Qingdao was thumbing their nose at the US legal system. We are in the process of attempting to collect the judgment. Amazon has been silent on the issue.

In the US we believe we have certain protections against harmful products. It appears that we do not have protections against products made in China.