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Is Snapchat Responsible for How Users Engage with its Mobile Apps?

Have you ever marveled at the seemingly obvious warning labels that adorn some of the common household products you use? While such labels may appear to state the obvious, they exist largely to protect the product's maker from liability. In cases where a company fails to take action to warn individuals who use a product of any possible harm or danger that may arise from its use, a company may be held liable for any resulting harm, injuries or deaths.

A recent lawsuit that names the mobile app company Snapchat as a defendant raises several questions about product liability with regard to distracted driving and the roles and responsibilities of app manufacturers in warning drivers about the associated dangers. 

The lawsuit was filed by a man who suffered debilitating injuries after his vehicle was struck by a teen driver who, at the time of the accident, was using Snapchat's speed filter app. According to the lawsuit, the Snapchat app encourages users to record and caption the speed at which they are traveling to share with others via the app. The lawsuit alleges that the vehicle, which was driven by the Snapchatting teen, was traveling at speeds in excess of 100 mph when it struck the plaintiff's car.

The lawsuit names both the teen driver and Snapchat as defendants and essentially asserts that Snapchat has a legal duty to "to third persons who are injured as a result of the use of its application or product." This point is one that a jury will likely be asked to consider and decide. In this case, a key issue that must be addressed centers on the intended use of the app. Did Snapchat intend for users to engage with the app while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle? If not, can the company prove that it took measures to effectively warn users against doing so and should the company have anticipated that users would engage with the app this way?

An attorney who handles product liability cases can help individuals who suffer harm and/or injury due to defective and dangerous products. These types of cases can be complex and it's always advisable to seek the advice and assistance of a legal professional who is well-versed in product liability matters.

Source: Huffington Post, "The Snapchat Distracted Driving Lawsuit: What Legal and Moral Responsibilities do App Manufacturers Have With Respect to Distracted Driving?," Joel Feldman, May 2, 2016

CNN, "Snapchat speed filter blamed for highway accident," Hope King, April 26, 2016

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