A new lawsuit blames Snapchat, along with a teenager who was allegedly using the popular messaging app to share how fast she was driving, for an accident that left another driver in Georgia with severe injuries.
The legal action against Snapchat is notable in part because it targets the app maker for the alleged actions of one of its users, based on a feature of the app. It’s a new twist in the age of distracted driving, when more drivers are using their smartphones behind the wheel, leading to an increase in related accidents.
A news release from Atlanta-based personal injury lawyer Michael L. Neff details the alleged series of events from the night of Sept. 10, 2015. Neff is among those representing Wentworth Maynard, an Uber driver who was beginning his shift in the Atlanta suburb of Hampton, Ga., when his Mitsubishi Outlander was hit by a Mercedes c230 driven by then-18-year-old Christal McGee.
McGee had just left her shift at a restaurant and had agreed to take three coworkers home, according to the news release. She was allegedly caught up in Snapchat while driving and told those in the car that she wanted to post a photo of herself going fast.
A Snapchat “smart filter” overlays the miles per hour one is traveling on top of an image. A passenger in McGee’s car allegedly saw the filter hit 113 mph when McGee said she was going to post it.
Moments later, the Mercedes collided with Maynard’s SUV at 107 mph, crushing the left rear side and sending him to a 5-week stay in intensive care where he was treated for a traumatic brain injury.
Once home and after months of recovery, Maynard is finally able to get out of bed and feed himself. But the law firm’s news release says he is not himself and he suffers chronic pain as well as difficulties in communication, memory loss, and depression.
McGee and her passengers were treated for cuts and bruises. Strapped to an ambulance gurney with blood running down her face just after the accident, McGee posted an image to Snapchat with the caption: “Lucky to be alive.” The news release points out that her snap joins a “macabre gallery” of Snapchat users who have “captured and shared moments of danger and damage surrounding their use of the app.”
A Brazilian woman, for instance, shared images from a 110-mph joy ride with her boyfriend last summer before the car they were in rolled. She continued to take selfies of her bloody face after the crash.
GeekWire has contacted Snapchat for comment, and we’ll update this post with the company’s response. The company, based in Venice, Calif., has been valued at $16 billion. The miles-per-hour filter was added as part of a product update in December 2013.
Research by AT&T shows that drivers aren’t just distracted by basic texting. Nearly 4 in 10 are tapping into social media behind the wheel.
The civil lawsuit against McGee and Snapchat aims to hold each party responsible for the medical bills and lifelong care Maynard now requires.
“We’ll see to it that Christal McGee is held responsible, but we also want to see Snapchat held responsible,” said T. Shane Peagler, an attorney on the case, in a news release. “This is a product liability case because Snapchat put something very dangerous in the marketplace without any warnings or safeguards, and basically said, whatever happens, happens.”
The news release states that Snapchat’s user agreement did not have a safety or security clause at the time of the accident. The user agreement was updated to include a safety section as of March 29.
“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,” Neff said.