Speeding While Intexticated: Snapchat Sued for Deadly High Speed Crash. Is the Popular Social Media App Encouraging Lethal Behavior?
In a monumental moment of bad judgment, Snapchat added a feature to its picture and video-sharing app called the “speed filter.” The tempting feature allows users to post photographs showing how fast they are moving at the time they take their picture. The speed filter uses your smartphone’s sensors to read the speed and awards users trophies for posting at faster and faster speeds. Combined with youthful recklessness, it’s an open invitation to teens to take selfies at deadly speeds.
You can guess what happened next.
On September 18, 2015, 18-year-old Christal McGee was driving down a Georgia highway. While driving, she decided to use Snapchat’s speed filter to take a photo of herself going over 100 mph. A passenger in the car says she saw McGee’s phone report 113 mph at one point before slamming into a car being driven by Wentworth Maynard. Police estimate she was doing 107mph at the time.
Maynard suffered catastrophic injuries, ended up in a coma, spent five weeks in intensive care and now has permanent severe traumatic brain injury, according to his attorneys. Meanwhile, McGee escaped with minor scrapes and bruises, and even shared her good fortune with her followers as Maynard’s life hung in the balance.
SNAPCHAT SUED FOR PROMOTING TEXTING AND SPEEDING
Maynard filed a lawsuit against McGee and Snapchat, alleging that its colossally foolish speed filter encouraged McGee’s reckless decision to speed and text.
Should Snapchat be liable for the reckless actions of a teenager? Some say no, that people are responsible for their own actions. But let’s be real – texting while driving is a national epidemic, particularly with teenagers. Eleven teens die every day as a result of texting while driving. According to a AAA poll, 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway. 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cell phones. In addition, the most recent 2016 poll shows that Snapchat is the most popular social network among teens.
These statistics are not lost on the powers that be at Snapchat. The facts tell the story. Snapchat knows it’s the most popular social media app among teens; Snapchat knows teens use social media while driving; Snapchat knows that 35% of all teens have admitted to texting and driving; and Snapchat knows that driving while texting is dangerous, if not deadly. And in light of these facts, Snapchat created the trophy-driven, thrill-seeking, let-me-show-off-to-my-friends-that-I-can-speed-and-take-a-selfie “Speed Filter.” I suspect that Snapchat knew exactly what it was doing when it unleashed the Speed Filter, the consequences be damned. How this idiotic idea got past its legal department defies logic.
COULD DRAM SHOP LAWS PROVIDE A FRAMEWORK FOR LAWSUITS AGAINST SNAPCHAT?
Should Snapchat be liable for Maynard’s injuries which will require lifelong medical care? In this lawyer’s opinion, absolutely yes. But how would that work? What legal framework could hold Snapchat legally liable here? One could argue that Snapchat’s actions meet the legal definition of “negligence” in California, and that they might even constitute legal “recklessness” in that they knew that it was highly probable that the Speed Filter would encourage teens to engage in conduct that would cause harm, and Snapchat knowingly disregarded this risk. However, this could be difficult to establish.
Perhaps a better framework would be to enact the equivalent of what are called “Dram shop” laws. Thirty eight states have enacted “Dram Shop Acts” which make a business which sells alcoholic drinks to a drinker who is visibly drunk, or close to, it liable to anyone injured by the drunken patron or guest.
Those laws could be replicated and applied to social media apps that actively encourage texting and speeding.
But until state legislatures enact such Texting “dram shop acts,” it may be difficult to hold companies like Snapchat liable for the deadly acts of drivers like McGee. Regardless, Snapchat needs to do the right thing and get rid of the Speed filter – now.