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What’s the Problem?
In an order  filed on April 31, 2022, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald rejected Snap Inc.’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the complaint alleges that Snap, as a manufacturer, caused the accident through the design of its Speed Filter, which allows users to post their current speed on photos, and to receive rewards for doing so.
“There is realistically no purpose for the Speed Filter other than to encourage users to travel at high speeds and record themselves doing so,” Fitzgerald said. “It is common sense that adding a speed-sharing feature to a social media application used predominantly by minors and young adults would encourage such users to record themselves while driving at high speeds.”
The lawsuit alleges that Hunter Morby, Landen Brown and Jason Davis were driving in Wisconsin on May 28, 2017, at high speeds, reaching 123 miles per hour, and crashed into a tree going around 113mph, killing all three of them.
Their parents claim that the boys were using the Snapchat Speed Filter under the belief that they could receive rewards and achievements within the app by posting a video of them going over 100mph.
The complaint was initially dismissed, with the court ruling that Snap was shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media companies from liability for third-party content.
However, the Ninth Circuit later reinstated the claims, finding that the case does not stem from third-party content, but rather on acts entirely under Snap’s control — namely, the design and implementation of the Speed Filter.
In the order, Fitzgerald noted that unlike other cases over apps that allegedly caused accidents, this is not about distracted driving, but rather the design of the speed filter itself, and there is no “gap” between its design and the accident.
“One of the only realistic uses of the Speed Filter is for users to record themselves traveling at high speeds,” Fitzgerald said. “It is extremely foreseeable that minors and young adults would use the Speed Filter to record themselves driving at excessive speeds, and even more so if there are potential reward ‘trophies’ for so doing.”
The case is: Lemmon et al. v. Snap Inc., case number 2:19-cv-04504, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
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