Products Liability Law Daily Snapchat not responsible for misuse of app that led to car crash
Monday, November 2, 2020

Snapchat not responsible for misuse of app that led to car crash

By David Yucht, J.D.

A driver of a motor vehicle reached a speed of 100 miles per hour, with the purpose of capturing that speed on a Snapchat image, prior to crashing into another vehicle.

An intermediate appellate panel in Georgia found that Snapchat, Inc. did not owe a duty to alter its product design to prevent the injuries allegedly caused by an automobile driver who crashed into another vehicle while she was using Snapchat’s Speed Filter application. Consequently, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s order granting Snapchat’s motion to dismiss. Chief Judge Christopher J. McFadden issued a dissenting opinion (Maynard v. Snapchat, Inc., October 30, 2020, Doyle, S.).

Snapchat is a social media company that makes products allowing users to create, post, receive, share, and store digital images. Snapchat created a feature, known as the Speed Filter, that allows users to record the speed at which they are travelling and overlay that speed onto a Snapchat image. Users can then share that image with their speed as a "Snap," which is Snapchat’s messaging product.

On the day of the accident, a driver was driving with three passengers in her family’s car. She began driving at an excessive rate of speed, attempting to reach 100 miles per hour so that she could capture that speed on a photograph using the Speed Filter. Due to her distraction and unsafe speed, she crashed into another vehicle, injuring everyone involved. The occupants of the other vehicle sued Snapchat, alleging that Snapchat negligently designed the Speed Filter, encouraging users to endanger themselves and others on the roadway. The trial court granted Snapchat’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The occupants of the other vehicle appealed.

Proximate cause. A majority of the appellate panel agreed with the trial court and affirmed the dismissal because Snapchat did not have a duty toward third parties to use reasonable care in designing the Speed Filter product. Although the risk-utility analysis was appropriate to determine whether the Speed Filter was designed defectively, this analysis did not do away with "the requirement to identify a legal duty." Here, the complaint alleged that the injury was caused by the driver’s misuse of the Speed Filter while driving at an excessive rate of speed. Consequently, Snapchat’s alleged liability was predicated on the driver’s conduct. Generally, Georgia law does not recognize a "legal duty to all the world not to subject others to an unreasonable risk of harm," or a duty to control the conduct of third parties to prevent them from causing harm.

Dissenting opinion. Chief Judge Christopher J. McFadden disagreed with the majority’s decision. He felt that the allegations fell within the requirements for stating a claim for defective design based on the risk-utility analysis. Whether a particular design is defective is determined by balancing the risks inherent in the product design against the utility of the product so designed. Here, there was no support for the majority’s holding that the duty to adopt a reasonable design did "not extend to the intentional misuse of the product by a third party." Prior to this opinion, the law had been that a manufacturer could be held liable, under certain circumstances, for "reasonably foreseeable product use or misuse."

The case is No. A20A1218.

Attorneys: Todd Robert Henningsen (Henningsen Injury Attorneys, PC) for Wentworth Maynard And Karen Maynard. Lori G. Cohen (Greenberg Traurig LLP) for Snapchat, Inc.

Companies: Snapchat, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory ElectronicProductsNews DesignManufacturingNews CausationNews GeorgiaNews

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