Snapchat’s “miles per hour” filter allows users to overlay their selfies with a stamp showing how fast they were going at the time. App users around the world have been criticized for posting photos they made with the filter while driving at over 100 mph. Teenager Christal McGee is alleged to have caused a near-fatal accident doing the same thing. Now the lawyers representing her victim, Wentworth Maynard, are suing Snapchat–claiming that the app is to blame for McGee’s behavior.
Maynard’s attorneys argue that Snapchat’s speed filter encourages users to compete with each other to post the fastest velocity. “This case is unique in that we have clear evidence linking use of the Snapchat miles per hour filter in the moments leading up to the crash with the kind of grievous harm we know this product is capable of,” Attorney Michael Neff said. “It’s our hope that this case will not only garner justice for Mr. Wentworth, but will pressure Snapchat to stop putting the public at risk.”
For its part, Snap notes that its app specifically warns users not to use it while driving. Because the lawsuit has just been filed, it will be some time before the issue of liability is decided.
Of course, this is not the first lawsuit to blame an app for harm caused by distracted users. The world is still recovering from the Pokemon Go craze, and the lawsuits against its creators for trespasses allegedly committed by its users are still pending. And in 2012, a lawsuit blamed fitness app Strava for a collision caused by a bicycler who was using the app. Strava prevailed a year later.
Where the line of liability gets drawn between user and app developer will always be a fact-specific, case-by-case determination. Sooner or later, though, lawsuits like these may help provide guidance on just how much responsibility app developers have for the actions of their users.