Monday, May 17, 2021

Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit recognizes cause of action against Snapchat

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided that the parents of a teenager killed in a traffic accident can sue Snapchat based on the argument that Snapchat's speed filter entices young people to drive at astounding speeds.

The decedent and two other teenagers were driving at over 120 miles an hour and wanted to capture the experience using an app feature called "speed filter" which documents real-life speed.  After one of them opened and started using the app, the driver lost control of the car and hit a tree.  All three died in the crash.

This type of allegation is not new.  It was the same type of allegation used in cases involving people playing "Pokemon Go" (remember that craze?). I posted a podcast on those claims back in 2016 here.

Other cases have found against the sender of a text which distracts a driver.  For example, see here, and here.

So, the plaintiffs' argument that the app "entices" young people to do stupid or dangerous things is not new; but it is not an easy one.  First of all, there is the issue of whether the conduct of one of the kids should be considered a superseding intervening cause.  Was the goal of the joy ride to use the app?  Or did they decide to use it after they were already driving fast?

Also, and even more problematic for the plaintiffs is the issue of comparative negligence, or assumption of the risk (if the jurisdiction still recognizes it as a defense).  If the jurisdiction is a modified comparative negligence jurisdiction, the defendants will argue that the plaintiffs' negligence should defeat the cause of action. 

What is most interesting about this case is that the plaintiffs argued the case as a products liability case while the defendant tried to defend the case by arguing it is protected from liability by the Communications Decency Act.

According to Courthouse News, the Ninth Circuit’s rejection of the defendant's attempt to hide behind the Communications Decency Act is the second opinion by an appellate court.  The other one was the Georgia Court of Appeals which rejected virtually identical arguments made by Snap in another Speed Filter case.  NPR has more on the case here.

The case is called Lemmon v. Snap, Inc, and you can read the opinion here.

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