By Mackenzie Olson
Snapchat is an app that allows users to send one another “snaps”, which are pictures that disappear after a few seconds. Users can also add a “filter” to their pictures to alter or enhance it. However, Snapchat filters are quite unlike those of other apps. Sure, many iPhone photos instantly become more attractive—or at least more “like”-able—under the effects of the photo sharing app Instagram’s many popular filter options. (If in doubt, opt for the Valencia filter. It’s nearly foolproof.) Snapchat filters, however, can turn a user into a surreal version of him or herself. Ever wondered what you might look like as a dog? A zombie? Or with your best friend’s (or the Starbucks lady’s) face? Snapchat offers all of these options, among others, and they are virtually risk-free.
This is because Snapchat also offers a filter that records a user’s speed in real time in miles-per-hour. On its face, this may seem just as harmless as its other filter options. However, it has inspired some users to apply the filter while driving cars at excessive speeds.
In Georgia, a teen recently injured herself and others when she crashed her car while using this filter. The picture she snapped in the process clocked her driving at 107 miles-per-hour.
The other driver and his wife injured in the crash have filed suit against the teen in a Georgia state court. In their complaint, they allege only two counts of liability against the teen driver, negligence and loss of consortium. The suit is notable, however, in that the plaintiffs also name Snapchat as a defendant, alleging that the photo app is also liable on both counts.
The plaintiffs’ theory is that Snapchat’s speed filter facilitated the teen’s excessive speeding, and that Snapchat had knowledge that the app encouraged such behavior. They explain that prior to this accident, Snapchat knew that other users had previously injured themselves in car accidents while driving at excessive speeds, which they documented with the same filter. The plaintiffs reason that despite this knowledge, Snapchat did not remove or restrict this filter. Therefore, Snapchat’s inaction renders it liable.
Whether the Georgia court will extend liability to Snapchat remains to be seen, as positing a theory of third party liability is not unfounded. Dram shop laws offer a pertinent example. Under these laws, businesses that serve alcohol to intoxicated patrons are held strictly liable to anyone thereafter injured by their drunken customers. Given the rising number of car crashes caused by distracted driving, lawmakers have become increasingly eager to curtail the problem. Thus—until explicit direction otherwise from legislatures—judges may be more willing to extend liability in instances like the Georgia case in order to further the public’s and the legislature’s interest in decreasing distracted-driving crashes.
In the meantime, should Snapchat remove its speed filter? All I ask is that Snapchat replace it with another animal filter. I think a tortoise or snail would be a particularly fitting substitute in this instance.
Image Source: Snapchat