According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 46 states now prohibit all drivers from text messaging while driving. (See the full list on the NCSL’s website.) Unfortunately, technology often advances at a rate faster than legislation can respond, leading to increased lawsuits while parties attempt to allocate liability. Now that legislatures have tackled texting, young adults and teens have transitioned to communicating via other mobile applications, including Snapchat. Earlier this month, two plaintiffs filed an action for personal injuries and damages in Georgia State Court arising from a car crash that occurred when a teen driver’s vehicle collided with another car while she was using Snapchat’s “speed” filter. The complaint names both Snapchat, Inc. and the teen as defendants. (See complaint.)
Snapchat is an image messaging application software product that allows users to share “snaps” with one another. According to the complaint, prior to September 2015, Snapchat launched a feature on its application that allowed users to track and document the speed they are traveling by taking a picture or video and applying the “speed” filter. Snapchat awards users “trophies” for sending snaps for different in-app activities. One of the available trophies is for using one or two filters, including the speed filter.
The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges the defendant was “motivated to drive at an excessive speed in order to obtain recognition through Snapchat by means of a Snapchat ‘trophy.’” Compl. at ¶ 27. While the teen was driving, she was allegedly distracted by her use of the Snapchat app on her mobile phone. According to the complaint, the defendant’s car was traveling at approximately 107 miles per hour at the time of impact. Id. at ¶ 35. As a result of the collision, the plaintiff suffered permanent brain damage. Id. at ¶ 36.
As of early May, Snapchat’s “community guidelines” and “safety tips” did not provide warnings against snapping while driving. However, the plaintiffs’ complaint does not allege a failure to warn but instead claims negligence and loss of consortium. See Compl. at 7 – 8.
If the lawsuit gains traction – or copycat lawsuits – it could raise questions about the liability exposure for technology companies and other product manufacturers that offer alleged driver distractions, even where warnings against such dangerous behavior are provided.
Alexis Kellert, a litigation associate in Weil’s Products Liability practice group, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published May 25, 2016.