Snapchat has been named in a lawsuit for a car accident involving a teenager who was using the app while driving. It's not out of the ordinary for people to use mobile tech irresponsibly while driving, but rarely does it lead to the tech company who developed the device or app to get sued. Snapchat is currently valued somewhere between $10-20 billion.
The lawsuit comes out of Georgia, where a violent car crash nearly left five people dead in September 2015. The blame is being put on Snapchat's speed filter, which superimposes the current speed over the image at the time the photo was taken, measured in either miles or kilometer per hour.
At the time of the accident, the teen driver was attempting to photograph herself driving at more than 100 mph in a 55 mph zone, in order to post the picture to social media. She then rear ended the plaintiff, Maynard Wentworth, at approximately 107 mph.
Severe injuries were had by the teen driver, her 3 passengers, and Wentworth, who went into a coma, spent 5 weeks in intensive care, and suffered permanent brain damage.
Wentworth's family is now suing Snapchat for an unspecified amount of money. His attorney's argue that Snapchat facilitated the teen driver's excessive speeding, due to the irresponsible implementation of the apps speed filter. They claim the app distracted the driver, and encouraged her drive recklessly, claiming “This is a product liability case because Snapchat put something very dangerous in the marketplace without any warnings or safeguards, and basically said, whatever happens, happens.”
The lawyers are also hold the teen driver accountable, who is also named in the lawsuit, but believe that Snapchat played a major role.
The teen driver's family claim that Wentworth pulled out in front of her illegally. However, the 3 passengers in her car have stated on record that she was driving as fast as 113 miles per hour. A car crash expert was able to determine her vehicle's speed at the moment of impact with Wentworth's vehicle.
This case joins a long list of instances of people who were distracted by their mobile devices, which then resulted in serious accidents. However, rewarding it's users for driving dangerously with it's speed filter doesn't make Snapchat look very good either, and may make their case more difficult in court.
Distracted driving has become a national topic, with regulations being passed all over the country that curb the use of cell phones while driving. Currently 14 states ban handheld cell phones while driving, and 37 states ban cell phone use completely for novice or teenage drivers. A 2014 study has found that cellphone use has been related to as many as 1 out of every 4 motor vehicle accident
While some may point their finger at Wentworth for suing Snapchat, it's easy to see why victims of these types of accidents want someone to blame besides the driver. There are so many cases of a person getting hurt by someone else who was using an electronic device, people are desperate for a solution. In the same way that the public is trying to figure out who to blame for issues like gun violence, victims and law makers are hoping to reduce these types of accidents by holding 3rd
parties responsible, who can make quick, meaningful changes.
It's currently unclear how far this case will proceed. While Wentworth's attorneys argue that it's a cut and dry product liability case, it's unlikely to end up being that simple. Product liability laws are handled on a state-by-state basis, and is generally intended to cover dangerous or defective products, in which case Snapchat is neither. The app alone is not able to harm an individual, unlike a hover-board that could potentially catch fire.
However, it could be argued that Snapchat was negligent in it's design, especially with regards to a speed filter that measures and rewards people for driving at high speeds.
Additionally, most state's product liability laws require that a product to be sold in order to be liable. Snapchat is a free app, for anyone to use or misuse as they like, which may have an impact on the lawsuit, as it has had on other suits in the past. In 2009 a woman sued both Samsung and Sprint after her mother was killed by a distracted cellphone driver. In 2003 a woman sues now-defunct cellphone provider Cingular for similar circumstances.
More recently, in 2011, a woman sued Google after being given bad walking directions along a busy highway at night. A lack of sidewalks and poor visibility led to her being seriously injured after being run over. Her medical bills have climbed to more than $100,000 since the time of the accident.
All three court cases were ultimately thrown out as neither cellphone company or Google had a legal relationship with the respective victims. The court argued that it would set a dangerous legal precedent, which could lead to many more people suing Google, and damaging the value of a service that it provides to the public for free.
While these cases provide a clear indication of the direction Snapchat's suit is likely to go, it also indicated the persistence of a bigger societal problem; cellphone driving. More and more laws are being passed to regulate cellphone use while behind the wheel, with some looking to make it as punishable as drunk driving. It's possible that stepping up legal action may help to curb risky cellphone use.