A recently filed Georgia lawsuit seeks to hold Snapchat liable for a high speed motor vehicle accident that allegedly occurred as a result of the at-fault motorist’s use of the social media application.

Snapchat users create multimedia messages referred to as “snaps.”  A snap is a photo or short video users capture with the Snapchat app.  The snap can then be edited to include filters and effects, text captions and drawings.  The snaps are then saved to the users’ “story” or sent directly to other users.  The filter at issue in this lawsuit – the “speed” filter – uses the phone’s GPS system to calculate the speed at which a user is moving at the time the snap is created.  The user can then add the speed reading to the photo or video from the editing screen.  The app rewards users who submit photos of their speed by giving them points or trophies for achieving certain speeds.

In the complaint filed against Snapchat and Christal McGee, plaintiffs Wentworth and Karen Maynard allege that McGee was using Snapchat while driving her car on September 10, 2015.  McGee allegedly was motivated to drive fast in order to obtain a “trophy” with the Snapchat speed filter and accelerated her vehicle in excess of 100 mph.  The complaint further alleges that because McGee was distracted by the app, she failed to notice a Mitsubishi, driven by Wentworth Maynard, pull out in front of her.  McGee allegedly struck Maynard’s vehicle while traveling 107 mph.  As a result, Maynard has allegedly suffered permanent brain damage.

The complaint also includes allegations regarding a car accident in Brazil in 2015 in which a woman documented that the cause of her wreck was her use of Snapchat’s speed filter.  Plaintiffs allege that Snapchat was, or should have been, aware of the danger caused by drivers using the speed filter while operating motor vehicles, yet did nothing to remove or change it.

The lawsuit filed by the Maynards pushes the envelope on manufacturer liability for the poor decisions of a product’s users.  Ultimately, this case will turn on whether the manufacturer of a legal and non-defective product (here, a cell phone app) should be liable to third parties who are injured as a result of the use of the app.  A Snapchat spokesperson indicated that Snapchat actively discourages the use of the speed filter while driving, displaying a “Do NOT Snap and Drive” warning message in the app itself.  Additionally, Snapchat’s terms of service states: “Do not use our services in a way that would distract you from obeying traffic or safety laws. And never put yourself or others in harm’s way just to capture a snap.”  Even without these warnings, a reasonable person knows better than to use a smartphone while driving a break-neck speeds.  In this case, the distracted driver – not the source of the distraction – is the tortfeasor.

The complaint is available here: http://www.mlnlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/maynard-v-snapchat-complaint.pdf

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