Distracted drivers are a significant danger to others on the road. You shouldn’t record videos of your dangerous driving so you can post them on social media like Snapchat. Drivers want them to become viral and attract more followers. The companies owning these apps might be forced to pay compensation for injuries caused by these users.

Not only might a negligent driver be sued to recover damages for causing an accident, but the social media app owners may also be liable, according to a Georgia State Supreme Court decision in March.

Georgia Courts Take on Novel Issue: Are Apps Responsible for the Harm Caused by Distracted Users Breaking the Law?

Justices overturned the dismissal of a lawsuit by a victim of a 2015 vehicle crash. He claims Snap Inc., the owner of Snapchat, created an app filter that encouraged reckless driving by the woman behind the wheel.

Christal McGee allegedly told her passengers before the collision with Wentworth Maynard’s SUV that she wanted to get up to 100 mph and post a photo on Snapchat. At the time, the app had a “speed filter” which showed users how fast they were going when posting. McGee’s Mercedes got up to an estimated 107 mph when she hit Maynard’s vehicle, according to Reuters.

After the accident, McGee posted a selfie on Snapchat with the tagline “lucky to be alive.” She later pleaded no contest to the criminal charge of causing a serious injury with her vehicle and was sued in civil court by Maynard and his wife. He states he’s never fully recovered from brain damage suffered in the accident.

Crash Victims Want Snap Liable for the Harm Caused by Their App’s Foreseeable Use

The Maynards state Snap should be liable because of the speed filter feature’s negligent design. They should’ve known the filter would result in users like McGee driving dangerously, causing accidents, and injuring others. Despite this foreseeable misuse, Snap didn’t include protections to cut that risk.

Snap’s defense was that McGee’s criminal acts and misuse of the app were the accident’s cause, and they cut any link to the company. Snapchat’s terms of use stated it wasn’t to be used for illegal purposes and contained a warning it shouldn’t be turned on while the user drove. Snap also stated there was no reason to be concerned about this kind of potential abuse because this accident was the first the company became aware of. The speed filter was disabled in June 2021.

The trial court granted Snap’s motion, dismissing the Maynards’ claims without the ability to change or re-file their case for two reasons:

  • Snap had no legal duty to the Maynards because a manufacturer doesn’t owe a duty to design a product that would prevent McGee from driving dangerously or control her conduct
  • The Maynards couldn’t show Snap was legally responsible for the injuries because McGee’s inattention, not Snapchat, caused the crash and her criminal and negligent driving was a superseding and intervening cause. Her violation of Snapchat’s terms of use and ignoring their warning also removed Snap from facing liability

Last summer, in a split decision, a Georgia appeals court agreed with Snap, deciding the company wasn’t obligated to design the speed filter to avoid the harm caused by McGee’s intentional misuse. The Maynards appealed, and the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

Georgia State Supreme Court Rules Snap May Be Found Liable If They’re the Legal Cause of the Crash

It held that state law doesn’t provide a blanket exception to liability if a consumer intentionally misuses a product. Past Georgia decisions mandate manufacturers use reasonable care in designing products to reduce the reasonably foreseeable risks of harm they pose. 

In the Maynard case, the justices stated they sufficiently alleged Snap had an obligation to design its app to prevent the risk that Snapchat users would drive recklessly while using its speed filter. They also wrote that plaintiffs must show the manufacturer’s negligent design was the proximate, or legal, cause of their alleged injuries. 

The case was sent back to the intermediate appeals court. They need to decide if the trial court made a mistake when it dismissed the case due to the decision McGee’s acts prevented Snap from being liable for the Maynards’ damages. 

Those Responsible for Your Injuries Should Be Held Accountable

Your case is worth protecting if you’re severely injured in an accident involving a negligent, distracted driver. If you want to discuss your situation with a Houston car accident injury lawyer with years of experience with the regional court system, call Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. Contact our legal team at (713) 364-0723 today to schedule a free consultation. We can talk about your injuries, how Texas law works, and what you should do to protect your legal rights.