Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Should a social media app company be liable for the damages caused by a driver distracted by the app while driving? -- UPDATED

Earlier today I posted a note about a recent case on whether a person who sends a text to someone who is driving should be liable for injuries caused by the driver if the driver is distracted by the text.  Now, here is a story with a similar theme.

Abnormal Use is reporting on an interesting case from Georgia in which social media giant Snapchat has been sued for allegedly causing a motor vehicle accident in which the at-fault motorist was distracted while using the application.  You should go to AU and read the full report to get the whole story, which I will just summarize here.

The plaintiff in the case is claiming that the defendant driver struck her car while going at more than 100 miles an hour while using Snapchat.  According to the report Snapchat has a feature that will show the speed you are going when taking a photo or posting a video.  Apparently, according to the plaintiff's allegations, the driver wanted to show the world she was going more than 100 mph (with passengers in her car, one of whom was pregnant, by the way).  She failed in her attempt to show this because she rammed into the car in front of her just before posting causing the plaintiff brain damage.  But she was definitely able to show how stupid and reckless she is, and more since after the accident, she had the bright idea to snap and post a photo of herself on a stretcher.

But now back to whether the plaintiff should have a cause of action against Snapchat.  One could argue that Snapchat should not be liable for the irresponsible conduct of the driver in this case.  After all, the driver was the one that acted and caused the accident, right?  Why should the social media company be responsible for how the user uses the app?

The problem is that the issue is not that simple.  The fact that one actor is more culpable than the other, does not mean the other is not culpable at all.  The relevant question is whether Snapchat should be considered culpable at all, and to answer that question first we have to ask whether the plaintiff can make an argument in support of a claim against Snapchat.

I think she can. As, Abnormal Use points out, "While a speed filter may be an interesting piece of technology, we assume in order for it to be useful there would need to be “speed” involved. The filter probably lacks the appeal of users taking a leisurely stroll through Central Park. We can appreciate the plaintiffs’ argument that the filter incentivizes users to go fast and, unfortunately, the most available means of doing so is by car."

In other words, Snapchat created a feature that it knew or should have known would induce users to speed thus creating risks of harm.  Thus, it seems to me that you can argue that Snapchat created an unreasonable risk of a foreseeable type of harm, which gives the plaintiff support for a prima facie case.

Whether Snapchat should be as liable as the driver,... that's is different another question.

But whether you can make an argument that Snapchat should be liable at all...  Yes, I think you can...

UPDATE 5/10/16, 8:40 pm:  Abnormal Use has a published a longer post on the Snapchat lawsuit after downloading and testing the app.

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