Ohio Supreme Court rules Amazon not liable after local teen dies from caffeine powder overdose

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — The Ohio Supreme Court issued its ruling Thursday on a case involving Amazon that started back in 2014 with the death of a local teen athlete.

Eighteen-year-old Logan Stiner passed away after consuming Hard Rhino Pure Caffeine powder purchased from Amazon, which he thought was a pre-workout supplement. 

The powder was the equivalent of ingesting 25 to 30 cups of coffee all at once and caused a fatal cardiac arrhythmia.

Just a pinch, a tablespoon, who would think that?” said attorney Brian Balser, who represents the Stiner family. “He had the whole world in front of him, getting ready to graduate near the top of his class.” 

In the months following the death, Logan’s parents fought to get the powder banned in Ohio and then banned by the FDA across the country.

They also sued Amazon.

Lawyers for Amazon maintained that the company was not liable under the Ohio Product Liability Act, because the product came from a third party seller on the website and they never directly handled it.

A Lorain county judge agreed and dismissed the case.

Upon appeal, it landed before the Ohio Supreme Court where Balser argued that Amazon was responsible.

“They identify dangerous products, but they don’t take them off unless it’s one of their products,” said Balser. “Let’s assume Amazon had a brick and mortar store, there’s no question they’d be responsible, but online they say we didn’t touch it?”  

But Thursday, the Ohio Supreme Court sided with the lower court’s ruling and agreed that Amazon was not the supplier because they never had “possession” of the product and “therefore should not be held liable under the Ohio Product Liability Act.”

Balser called the decision disappointing and said, “Amazon is protected because of the loophole they use saying we don’t touch the product, but the purpose of the products liability law is to protect the consumer and that’s not what’s happening here.”

Balser says similar cases in other states are leading to proposed changes to their laws, including in California — something he thinks needs to happen in Ohio and even Supreme Court Justice Michael P. Donnelly noted in his decision.

“Closing the obligation gap in the Ohio Products Liability Act for actors like Amazon would ensure the utmost protection that Ohio Consumers deserve,” said Donnelly.

 As for the Stiner family, Balser says they are understandably upset over the decision.

Not only because they will not receive any punitive damages for the loss of their son, but because of how the case could impact others.

Balser says both he and the Stiners plan to continue fighting for change so that no other family has to experience such a devastating loss.

“This doesn’t just impact my client, but everybody especially in this day and age where everyone is shopping online and there’s no protection,” said Balser. “Hopefully what will come out of this litigation is change in terms of consumer protection.”

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