Intentional Misuse of Social Media App May Lead to Developer Liability

Social media and messaging applications have changed the way people communicate. They are free and allow people to engage with each other and businesses.  Like any product, the apps can be misused, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Should a person that has been severely injured because of a third-party’s intentional misuse of a messaging app have the right to sue the developer of the app for a negligent design that allowed for misuse? The Supreme Court of Georgia recently addressed this unique issue.

Snapchat is a messaging app that allows user to send photos and messages that are available to the recipient for a short period of time, and then disappear. Snapchat has over 300 million daily users. In 2015, Christal McGee, a 19-year-old, was driving a vehicle while using Snapchat’s “speed filter”, which allows users to show how fast they were traveling when they posted a photo. She was driving over 100 m.p.h. when she collied with a car, causing catastrophic injuries, including a traumatic brain injury to Wentworth Maynard, the driver of the car.

Maynard and his wife sued Snap, Inc., the developer of Snapchat, alleging that it negligently designed the “speed filter”. The lower court dismissed the case, and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Snap, Inc. did not owe a duty to the Manyards because a manufacturer’s duty to design reasonably safe products does not extend to people injured by a third party’s intentional and tortious misuse of the manufacturer’s product.

The Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision and held that Georgia precedent requires manufacturers “to use reasonable care in selecting from alternative designs to reduce reasonably foreseeable risks of harm posed by its products.” The Court found that the Maynards adequately alleged that Snap, Inc. had a duty to design its app to avoid the risk that Snapchat users like McGee would drive recklessly while applying the “speed filter”. The decision is available here.

Proving that the negligent design of Snapchat was the proximate cause of the collision in this case may be a challenge, but the decision does open the door to social media and messaging apps being held liable for intentional misuse their products.  Will it quell innovation?

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