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Suing for Injuries Related to Smartphone Apps

July 7, 2022 Ecommerce

We often discuss the nuances of product liability law as it relates to e-commerce. But injuries and wrongful death have involved a variety of digital platforms. When these situations involve something conceptual like using software, rather than a product, they raise the question: Can people sue when injuries and death occur?

Some of the strongest examples involve the smartphone app Snapchat. Two recent cases involve crashes while the drivers were using the Snapchat “Speed Filter” to show how fast they were going. It is thought that Snapchat would reward a 100mph “snap” using the filter with online trophies and recognitions, although it has not been proven.

In Lemmon v. Snap, Inc., three boys were driving a car at high speed while using the Snapchat Speed Filter. The boys reached a speed of 123 mph before they went off the road and hit a tree, killing all three of them. The parents of two of the boys sued Snap, the company that owns Snapchat. They alleged that Snapchat encouraged this kind of reckless behavior and that the company was aware of prior similar incidents but did not fix the problem. Snap argued it was protected by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) from potential liability. The district court granted Snap’s motion to dismiss, but the Ninth Circuit reversed that decision. The Ninth Circuit held that Snap could be held potentially liable under a negligent design theory.

Another case, Maynard v. Snapchat, Inc. involved a young woman who was driving over 100 mph to capture her speed in the Speed Filter. McGee’s car hit another vehicle, causing that vehicle’s occupant to suffer a traumatic brain injury. The victim and his wife sued Snapchat, alleging that “Snapchat knew that its users could ‘use its service in a manner that might distract them from obeying traffic or safety laws.’

The plaintiffs in Maynard alleged that Snap could reasonably foresee that its app design created a risk of harm, knowing that drivers were using the filter while speeding as part of “a game,” and encouraging the behavior. The lawsuit further alleged that once downloaded, Snapchat’s software continued to download and install upgrades, updates, or other new features with the Speed Filter, even after obtaining real-world information about how the Speed Filter was in fact being used. The lower court initially dismissed the case, but the Georgia Supreme Court held that Snap must face potential liability under Georgia law for the crash.

Do software companies owe a duty to avoid developing dangerous smartphone apps? These decisions regarding Snapchat hopefully reflect a growing consensus among the courts that tech companies must be held liable for damage they cause.

If you or a family member has been hurt while using an app or other software, it can be confusing to figure out what it means or what you can do about it. At CaseyGerry, we offer free initial consultations. A knowledgeable member of our team can discuss what happened and let you know if you may have legal recourse. Give us a call at (619) 238-1811 to have a conversation today without obligation.