The Court of Appeals of Georgia last week reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit for negligence and loss of consortium against Snapchat, Inc. alleging the social media giant’s controversial “speed filter” was a proximate cause of an accident that nearly took the plaintiff’s life.
The lawsuit alleges that on September 10, 2015, then 18-year-old Crystal McGee began accelerating in her father’s Mercedes on a highway outside Atlanta. One of the three passengers in the vehicle, Heather McCarty, a co-worker of McGee’s, said she noticed McGee holding her phone as she drove and asked her to slow down. McGee allegedly responded that she would decelerate once she reached 100 miles per hour to post her speed on Snapchat using the speed filter, which is a stylized speedometer that superimposes a tracked speed on a user’s picture to share with other Snapchat users. Shortly after reaching 100 mph, the lawsuit claims McGee’s vehicle slammed into another car attempting to merge onto the highway. Wentworth Maynard, then 21 years old, was a passenger in that car and suffered permanent brain damage.
Maynard and his wife sued Snapchat for negligence and loss of consortium. They claimed Snapchat’s speed filter facilitated McGee’s reckless driving and that Snapchat knew the filter would likely distract drivers but created it anyway without including any warnings or safeguards. The speed filter was introduced in 2013 and has potentially been linked to other accidents, including a fatal collision in Florida in which young drivers were allegedly using the filter minutes before the crash.
A Snapchat spokesperson issued a statement in response to Maynard’s suit affirming “we actively discourage our community from using the speed filter while driving, including by displaying a ‘Do NOT Snap and Drive’ warning message in the app itself.” Snapchat also denied all of Maynard’s allegations and argued for dismissal claiming immunity under the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The CDA shields interactive computer service providers from all liability arising from content created by third parties.
The trial court found the CDA applied and dismissed the suit, but a three-judge panel in the Court of Appeals of Georgia reversed. Writing for the court, Judge William M. Ray II distinguished cases in which third-party content was said to have caused the harm and found, conversely, that Maynard’s claims stem from Snapchat’s alleged negligent creation of the filter and the foreseeable misuse of that filter by a third party – not from any third-party content. Indeed, Ray noted no third-party content was ever posted in this case as McGee was unable to “snap” her speed before the accident occurred.
The case will now return to the trial court where the parties will litigate the merits of Maynard’s claims, which will likely be hotly contested. McGee sued Maynard’s lawyers for defamation in April of 2017 alleging her phone was in her purse when the accident occurred and that she was never using Snapchat as Maynard’s suit contends.