We know we’re not supposed to be using our smartphones when driving, but can you blame the smartphone and the content provider when using their app causes an accident?
Recently, a Tennessee court official answered that in a surprising way.
Snapchat is a popular smartphone app that lets users share photos and videos. One of its more controversial features is a “speed filter,” which allows you to show how fast you were traveling when the picture was taken.
In September 2015, Christal McGee was allegedly trying to reach a speed of 100 miles per hour to post a picture when she collided with a car driven by Wentworth Maynard. The force of the impact drove Maynard’s car across four lanes of the highway and into an embankment. Maynard sustained permanent brain damage and cannot walk as a result of the accident. McGee, who sustained only superficial injuries, was undeterred, Snapchatting “lucky to be alive” from her stretcher after the car accident.
That may sound like an open-and-shut case against McGee, but the court balked at finding Snapchat liable. Judge Josh Thacker dismissed Snapchat from the case, citing the 1996 Communications Decency Act which states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Judge Thacker interpreted this to mean that Snapchat should not be held liable for what its user, McGee, published.
This would make more sense if McGee was looking at her own already-published content, or that of another user, at the time of the accident, but she was not. She was distracted by Snapchat’s app and Snapchat’s proprietary speed filter, not uploaded content. The Maynard’s attorney stated that they were considering an appeal.
Snapchat is not the only app creating problems. We are already seeing stories about the Pokemon Go app, which allows users to chase virtual creatures in the real world using their smartphone. While the app is not supposed to work while driving, it will operate at a low speed and has already been blamed for many collisions.
If you are involved in an auto accident with a distracted driver, it’s important to select a tech-savvy attorney to represent you. Tricia Dennis and Russell King are committed to thoroughly investigating these types of accidents and excited about being part of the process of developing new law that protects the victims of distracted drivers. Please give us a call to discuss how we can help.