In 2017, three young men crashed into a tree and died after driving 123 miles per hour while using the “speed filter” – which shows real-time speed – on the social media platform Snapchat. The parents of the boys believe that Snapchat is the one to blame for this tragic accident and sued Snap Inc. for “knowingly creating a dangerous game.” The families allege that Snapchat’s speed filter encourages young people to drive at reckless speeds to gain attention on the app.
The District Court Judge dismissed the case, citing the sweeping immunity that social media companies maintain under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech companies from libel and civil suits regarding what people post on their platforms. However, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sparked controversy as it reversed the District Court’s ruling. The reversal was made on the grounds that parents were not suing because of something that was posted on the app, but rather a feature within the app itself. "This type of claim rests on the premise that manufacturers have a 'duty to exercise due care in supplying products that do not present an unreasonable risk of injury or harm to the public,’” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the court.
Many law experts who have experience with Section 230 have given their opinions on the case’s current situation. Victims’ rights lawyer Carrie Goldberg saw the reversal as a victory. Goldberg, who specializes in online abuse cases, had previously brought a similar liability case against the app Grindr. Her client’s case was rejected by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds of Section 230. The attorney went on to say that this reversal could help bring cases against tech giants in front of a jury. Jeff Kosseff, a law professor at the U.S. Naval Academy who has written a book on Section 230, is concerned that the reversal will open the door for more lawsuits that will break down Section 230. In Georgia, an appeals court found that Snapchat could be sued for harm resulting from the use of the same speed filter, but this was later reexamined by a trial court. In contrast to the current situation, the trial court in Georgia found that Snap Inc. could not be held responsible for someone misusing the filter, siting the “DON’T SNAP AND DRIVE” warning the app applies to it.
Four years later, the parents who lost their sons after they crashed into a tree have returned to the lower court with their case. Snapchat could avoid any legal responsibility, as it did in Georgia, or it could open the floodgates for discussion around Section 230. Due to the split view on this case, it is possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually weigh in.
Distracted drivers can cause damage not only to themselves but to those who cross their path on the road. MAS Law realizes this, and in the event that you or your loved ones are hurt, we are committed to getting you the compensation you deserve. We are the Lawyers On Your Side®. For an initial consultation, contact us today at (972) 460-9339.