Drivers who dial a cellphone when they should be concentrating on the road are a menace to other drivers and pedestrians. Even more dangerous are drivers who type texts or use their smartphones to surf the web as they drive.
The latest driver distraction that contributes to crashes is the Snapchat app. One feature offered by Snapshot allows (and arguably encourages) drivers to take selfies while they are driving at a high speed, and then to send the selfie to Snapshot so that they can accumulate points. That ill-considered use of an app may create liability for Snapshot and for the drivers who use it.
Personal Injury Lawsuits Against Snapchat and Its Users
One feature of Snapchat measures the speed at which the user is traveling while taking a “selfie.” That might be interesting information to a train passenger, but a driver only needs to glace at the speedometer to determine the car’s speed. Drivers are nevertheless placing their lives at risk by speeding and taking selfies so that they can earn points that will eventually lead to “trophies.”
Christal McGee was driving her father’s Mercedes on a suburban road near Atlanta when she used her Snapchat app to see how fast she could go. McGee reached 113 mph on a road where the speed limit was 55. She slowed to 107 mph before she collided with Wentworth Maynard.
It’s clear that McGee was negligent and that Maynard has the right to recover compensation from her. News stories have not reported the limits of the insurance coverage McGee’s father maintained on the Mercedes. Maynard suffered from a traumatic brain injury that left him with permanent brain damage after months of hospitalization, so he may be entitled to more compensation than McGee’s insurance company will provide.
Maynard also sued Snapchat. According to Maynard’s complaint, Snapchat negligently encourages users to take selfies while driving. Snapchat users earn points by taking a selfie using the app’s “speed filter.” The accumulation of points allows users to win an emoji that Snapchat refers to as a “trophy.”
The suit against Snapshot gives Maynard an opportunity to recover full compensation if the policy limits maintained on the Mercedes are inadequate. With an estimated value of $12 billion to $16 billion, Snapshot is well positioned to pay claims resulting from its decision to market an app that encourages reckless behavior.
Snapchat’s Liability for Personal Injury Claims
Snapchat will probably argue that it does not intend its app to be used while driving. In fact, it has added a “Do NOT Snap and Drive” warning to the app. Yet the test of negligence is whether it is reasonably foreseeable that a particular act will cause harm to another person. Juries may decide that a “show us how fast you’re traveling” app would foreseeably encourage young drivers to disregard the warning and to take selfies as they drive.
The crash occurred in September 2015. The lawsuit alleges that in July 2015, a Snapchat user in Brazil crashed her car while taking a selfie and driving at 110 mph. That incident should have placed Snapshot on notice that its app would be a distraction to drivers, although common sense should have prevented Snapshot from adding that feature to the app even before the accident in Brazil occurred.
The Growing Problem of Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is a serious problem in California and in the rest of the nation. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, if you take your eyes off the road for five seconds to send a text, your car travels the length of a football field at 55 mph. Most crashes involve less than two seconds of driver reaction time.
Anything you do that requires you to divert your attention from the road for more than an instant may cause a crash. Dialing a cellphone, texting, programming a GPS device, and searching for a song on an mp3 player are all examples of negligent behavior when performed while driving. Taking selfies is only the latest addition to that list.
As personal injury lawyers, we see the devastating results of distracted driving every day. While we help injury victims obtain the compensation they deserve from negligent drivers and companies like Snapshot, we urge every driver to avoid distractions and to drive responsibly. We also urge Snapshot to engage in an act of corporate responsibility by removing the speed filter from its app.