A filter provided by social media platform Snapchat gives users the ability to record their miles-per-hour speed and then post that over a picture they take simultaneously. The platform warns users not to “Snap and drive.” iphone1

But is that warning enough to divorce the company from liability for these so-called, “high speed selfies”? Should it have known that people were going to use (and in fact were using) the filter to record themselves driving fast behind the wheel?

A car accident lawsuit filed recently in Georgia asserts that company should be held responsible to compensate for injuries caused by an 18-year-old driver who used the filter while allegedly traveling 107 mph. Plaintiff alleges the company “motivated” younger drivers to use the filter while driving by doling out points for using the app, encouraging use during everyday activities – like driving. 

The young driver and the friends in the car with her have argued instead that it was plaintiff who drifted into their lane, causing her to lose control of the vehicle.

Plaintiff says as a result of the crash, he suffered severe traumatic brain injury and was hospitalized for five weeks. A former Uber driver who had just started his shift at the time of the crash, he has reportedly been unable to return to work.

An accident reconstructionist reportedly determined that at the time of the crash, defendant driver was traveling at 107 mph. Shortly after the crash, as the teen lie on a stretcher, in a neck brace and with blood dripping down her face, she snapped another photo. That one she captioned, “Lucky to be Alive.”

The case is interesting not only for the fact that it once again underscores the dangers of distracted driving (which largely involves people who refuse to put down their smartphones), but it also highlights a new push to recognize distraction as a danger akin to drunken driving. Cases like this will continue to crop up if we treat providers of this technology the same way we do bars under state dram shop laws. Licensed establishments that serve alcohol can be held liable in some cases for serving to minors or those who are known to be habitually addicted to alcohol. Plaintiffs here are seeking accountability from Snapchat here in the same way.

Founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and also of a new organization called Partnership for Distraction-Free Driving, Candace Lightner, called distracted driving a killer that is still socially acceptable.

Snapchat awarded users “trophies” for using the speed filter, but never expressly offered trophies for high speed driving. The app itself displays the warning not to Snap and drive.

The local Georgia police department handling the case has not charged the teen driver with speeding because, a representative says, there were conflicting reports about how fast she was driving. The agency is investigating that aspect as well as whether she was using social media while driving and also whether plaintiff may have violated the law by changing lanes without signaling.

Petitions on Change.org have called for Snapchat to nix the speed tracker. The company has not at this juncture given any indication that it would do so.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Snapchat at 107 MPH? Lawsuit Blames Teenager (and Snapchat), May 3, 2016, by Katie Rogers, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

Moreno v. City of Gering – Government Liability in Bus Accident, April 27, 2016, Car Accident Lawyer Blog