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The families of two young men filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Amazon. The lawsuit alleges that the multinational technology company sold so-called “suicide kits,” which the young men later used to take their own lives.
Amazon filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but the motion was denied.
What are suicide kits?
So-called suicide kits are comprised of the following:
- Sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite is an inorganic compound that can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. If taken in large doses, sodium nitrite can cause death.
- Cimetidine. Cimetidine (sold under the brand name “Tagamet”) is a drug used to treat acid reflux and other stomach issues. Cimetidine can be used to prevent vomiting that may occur when sodium nitrite is ingested.
- Personal-use scale. A personal-use scale can be used to measure the amount of sodium nitrite necessary for the dose to be lethal.
- Peaceful Pill Handbook. The Peaceful Pill Handbook is a book that contains a chapter with clear instructions on how to administer sodium nitrite and cimetidine together to cause death.
At the time of the lawsuit, all of the items above could be purchased from Amazon (through a third-party seller in some cases). What’s more, the lawsuit alleges that Amazon “bundled” or “recommended” purchasing the above items together.
More about sodium nitrite
Sodium nitrite was developed in the 1960s. It is a food additive responsible for the characteristic color and flavor associated with cured meats. Though a successful food additive in small doses, sodium nitrite can be lethal if ingested in large doses. The sodium nitrite sold on Amazon is 98 percent pure.
The wrongful death lawsuit against Amazon
Tyler Muhleman, 17 years old, and Mikael Scott, 27 years old, died after consuming sodium nitrite and cimetidine, which they ordered from the Amazon website.
On December 12, 2022, the families of the two young men filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Amazon.
The lawsuit alleges that Amazon sold sodium nitrate even though the largest online retailer knew it was being used by children to commit suicide. What’s more, the lawsuit alleges that regulators warned Amazon that the sodium nitrite they sold had no household use.
“They know it’s killing people,” Mikael’s mom Ruth Scott said in an interview with the New York Times. “They are fully aware. They just don’t care.”
Notably, other online retailers, including Etsy and eBay, stopped selling sodium nitrite after learning that it was frequently being used for suicide.
Can Amazon be held liable for selling suicide kits?
Courts have struggled to decide whether online marketplaces (like Amazon and eBay) can be held liable for selling products directly or through third parties.
In 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Amazon could not be held liable for an Ohio teenager’s death from caffeine powder. The coroner determined that the 18-year-old died of cardiac arrhythmia from acute caffeine toxicity caused by ingesting the caffeine powder. The Court found that because Amazon never possessed control of the product, it did not meet Ohio’s definition of a “supplier” under Ohio’s product liability laws and, therefore, could not be held legally responsible.
On the other hand, a California court of appeals ruled that Amazon could be held liable for damages caused by a detective laptop battery that caught fire and caused a woman to suffer third-degree burns.
The parents who filed the suicide kit lawsuit may have a strong case, given that sodium nitrite arguably has no legitimate household use other than to assist in suicide.
On January 9, 2023, the King County Superior Court denied Amazon’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The court can now examine the question of whether Amazon can be held liable for selling so-called suicide kits.
Enjuris will keep you posted on any developments.