When most people hear the term “technology,” they don’t necessarily think of danger. They are more likely to think of convenience or improvement. The truth, however, is that some convenience-enhancing technologies also pose danger for their users. The most obvious and well-known example is cell phone texting. Many states have outlawed texting while driving, including California.
Snapchat, the popular social media smartphone application, allows users to snap photos and videos, personalize them, and send them privately to others. Recipients can view them for only a few moments before they are rendered inaccessible. The app contains a feature known as the speed filter, which detects how fast the phone (and presumably, its user) is traveling.
Snapchat was recently sued in a Georgia federal court by a man injured in a car wreck allegedly caused by a teenage driver who was using the speed filter while driving over 100 miles per hour. In addition to being sued along with Snapchat, the teenager has been charged with a felony.
Pokemon Go is a game played on a smartphone that induces players to go to certain locations to capture virtual creatures known as Pokemon. The creatures are created through augmented reality technology that displays the creatures’ images on the phone screen overlaid on the actual physical surroundings.
Pokemon Go players have already discovered the dangers of the game even though it was just released in midsummer. Two men in California fell off a cliff and fell between 50 and 90 feet while playing Pokemon Go. Other players have been the subject of criminal attacks while playing Pokemon Go, apparently unaware of their physical surroundings except for what they saw on their screens.
The liability of technology developers for personal injuries resulting from use of their products is not settled. Both Snapchat and Pokemon Go require use agreements to be accepted before downloading the application. These agreements are largely untested. However, even if they affect the ability of users to sue, third parties injured by those users will not be bound.
Regardless, in the case of Snapchat’s speed filter and Pokemon Go’s encouragement to wander blindly in public places, injuries will likely not been seen as clear-cut cases of misuse. Car wrecks caused by using an app that captures speed might well be considered foreseeable dangers that the company should have recognized. This is especially true when the application is used by and marketed to teenagers and young adults.
Likewise, Pokemon Go encourages players to visit places that contain natural and artificial hazards without first assessing the danger of those locations. This game app requires players to go to locations that contain hazards and requires them to stare at their phone screens while doing so. And walkers are not the only ones in danger. Drivers are crashing while playing the game, including in Baltimore, Jersey City, and Auburn, NY. We are all at risk.
Some courts have been reluctant to chill the development and creativity of app developers by holding them responsible for personal injuries resulting from their products’ use. Protection from liability has its limits, however, and it appears the speed filter and Pokemon Go are testing those limits.
If you or somebody you love has been injured in an accident involving a distracted driver, contact the personal injury attorneys at Alexander Law Group, LLP at 888.777.1776 for a free case consultation. Drivers who irresponsibly endanger others should be held accountable for their actions.