Internet Law

Maker of Snapchat can be sued for speed filter used by youths before fatal crash, 9th Circuit rules

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A federal appeals court has ruled that Snapchat isn’t protected from liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in a case alleging that three youths died in a car crash after using the app’s speed filter.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco said Section 230 immunity isn’t available in a lawsuit alleging negligent design of an app, report NPR, Law360 and Courthouse News Service.

How Appealing links to additional coverage of the May 4 decision.

Section 230 protects technology companies from liability for content posted by others. But the 9th Circuit said Snap Inc., the maker of Snapchat, could be liable because the suit’s negligent design claim wasn’t based on third-party content.

The three Wisconsin youths who died had crashed into a tree while going about 113 miles per hour. Before the crash, the suit alleges, one of the youths used Snapchat’s speed filter to record their speed.

Many Snapchat users think they will receive app rewards by recording a video going at least 100 miles per hour while using the filter, the suit alleges. The app design therefore incentivizes youths to drive at dangerous speeds, despite a warning not to use the filter while driving, according to the suit.

“It’s a triumphant day to see that an internet company can be held responsible for products that are defectively designed,” said lawyer Carrie Goldberg in an interview with NPR. “The biggest hurdle in personal injury law is getting in front of a jury, and this could lead to that situation for multibillion-dollar technology companies.”

According to the Lawfare blog, Goldberg filed a product liability suit against Grindr, an LGBTQ dating app, for allegedly refusing to take down an imposter account being used to send hundreds of strangers to a man’s home. The 2nd Circuit at New York affirmed dismissal of the case.

The 9th Circuit case is Lemmon v. Snap Inc.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, wrote the opinion.

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