Can I Successfully Sue SnapChat for a Distracted Driver Accident?

By | November 14, 2016

Is it possible for a mobile app to encourage distracted- dangerous- driving? 

SnapChat, one of the most popular apps with more than 150 million daily users and counting, says no. The company’s name has popped up in the news for more than just surpassing Twitter users and refusing a Facebook buyout. Part of the apps allure are their filters- ways the user can alter their photo or video with faceswaps, slow-mo or the now controversial speed filter. The later shows how fast the user is going as they film.

Wentworth Maynard filed a lawsuit against 18-year-old Christal Mcgee and SnapChat after McGee’s Mercedes crashed into Maynard’s Mitsubishi, sending him across four highway lanes. He suffered a serious traumatic brain injury and now copes with daily pain; McGee, who suffered less permanent injuries, SnapChatted her bloody face from the gurney with the caption: “lucky to be alive.” But the aftermath snap isn’t the reason Maynard and his attorney are going after the popular app.

The suit alleges the teen driver was using SnapChat’s speed filter at the time of the accident. According to the suit, her friends admitted they were purposely driving faster to show off with the speed filter. SnapChat fired back against their role in the accident, noting a “do not Snap and drive” message displays the first time someone uses the speed filter and every time they exceed 15 mph.

But however the facts of the crash play out, many agree the lawsuit deserves the national spotlight.

“The case has become high profile, both as an example of the dangers associated of distracted driving and its potential to set a legal precedent for other cases involving social media,” San Diego car accident attorney Scott Liljegren said. “Incidents like these make some wonder if distracted driving should be punishable in the same way as driving under the influence.”

And while that’s likely not in the future, apps could remain a billion dollar target for future accident victims and their attorneys.

In a more recent example, a SnapChat video shows 22-year-old Pablo Cortes’s car accelerating from 82 to 115 mph in 10 seconds, filmed by a 19-year-old passenger. Nine minutes after the video posted, their car lost control, crossed a medium on a Tampa Bay highway and struck a minivan, carrying a mother and her two children, head-on. All five died in the fiery crash.

While the Snap was recorded before the crash, it’s strong evidence that the app may actually be, albeit unintentionally, encouraging distracted and dangerous driving. So much so, in fact, Virginia attempted, and failed, to pass a bill specifically prohibiting snapping and driving.

The lawsuit against SnapChat eventually ended with a motion to dismiss for lack of evidence. SnapChat provided logs showing McGee wasn’t using the app during the time of the accident- perhaps suggesting a similar scenario as in Tampa Bay. For now, the company still has the speed filter and presumably feels safe against similar suits.

Some attorneys, however, aren’t sure the company’s comfortability will be long-lasting.

“Only time will tell if the social media giant will be held liable for its speed filter,” attorney Liljegren said.

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