A September 2015 crash in suburban Atlanta has focused attention on the role of smart phone use in distracting driving. The two-vehicle wreck in Hampton, Georgia left a 47-year-old motorist with a brain injury. In April 2016, attorneys for the man filed suit against Snapchat, alleging that its “speed” filter led a young Mercedes motorist to drive at extreme speeds. Snapchat introduced the speed filter in 2013 as part of a system upgrade.
The suit alleges that Snapchat’s app and its speed filter pose inherent risks. It further alleges that motorists are motivated to use the app while driving, and to travel at unsafe speeds to gain notoriety and “awards” via the speed filter. The suit claims that the brain-injured man faces ongoing medical expenses and a need for life-long care.
Lawyers for the brain-injured man assert that the problem is twofold. First, use of the speed filter while one is the road is linked to distracted driving. Second, the speed filter allegedly encourages drivers to violate the law by travelling at excessive speeds.
The two-vehicle accident occurred shortly before midnight on September 10, 2015. An 18-year-old restaurant worker and three of her co-workers left work in a Mercedes c230. The car was northbound on Tara Boulevard in Hampton where the speed limit is 55 mph.
At the same time, an Über driver in a Mitsubishi Outlander attempted to merge into traffic on Tara Boulevard, a four-lane highway. The Mercedes struck the rear left side SUV with enough force that it crossed the left lane and came to a stop on a left embankment. The Mercedes spun around an came to a stop on the opposite embankment.
According to the litigation, investigators conducting a subsequent accident reconstruction calculated the speed of the Mercedes at 107 mph when the wreck occurred. All four occupants in the Mercedes required transport to Piedmont Fayette Hospital for treatment of cuts and bruises. The motorist that allegedly caused the victim’s brain injury posted an image of herself on Snapchat when she was laying on an ambulance gurney. The image showed blood on her forehead, and the word overlay said, “Lucky to be alive,” according to the New York Daily News.
Months of Rehabilitation Follow
However, the SUV motorist sustained injuries that were much worse. He required five weeks of treatment for a traumatic brain injury in an intensive care unit. For a time, he required one tube for breathing and another for nutrition. Once medical personnel authorized his release from the ICU, he spent six more weeks in an acute care rehabilitation facility. Months of therapy followed at home. Eventually, he could get out of bed by himself and feed himself again.
However, the suit claims he experiences memory loss, depression and communication difficulties. It also asserts that he suffers from ongoing weakness, requiring him to use a wheelchair and a walker to get around. He is often too unsteady on his feet to move about without assistance. The suit also asserts that he has chronic pain from rotator cuff injuries in both shoulders.
Three Stanford University students released the Snapchat app in 2011 after working on it in their spare time. Today, the company’s stock is valued at $16 billion. When Snapchat first appeared, users were drawn to the idea the app would supposedly make images disappear in a short time. The app addressed the anxiety over other social media apps that left their photos and videos forever accessible on the Internet.
However, it is still possible for recipients of Snapchat posts to preserve images via screen shots or third-party apps developed expressly for that purpose. In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Snapchat for misleading consumers about claims regarding the ephemeral nature of posted images. The company said it would develop a feature that informed senders when their images were grabbed via screenshot, but the feature never materialized.
Other incidents have raised concerns as well. In 2013, the app was allegedly hacked by an individual that used a known security breach to expose the personal information of an estimated 4.6 million users. Snapchat’s increased gamification allegedly motivates users to engage in more extreme behavior. For example, a user employing the speed filter can now acquire “trophies” for transmitting images that use the miles-per-hour overlay.
Passengers as Witnesses
This case is notable in a number of respects. Since the Mercedes carried three passengers at impact, they are potential witnesses to alleged driver misconduct. Two backseat passengers told reporters that the driver was using the Snapchat speed filter just before the crash.
One of those passengers was pregnant, and she reportedly asked the driver to slow down. One passenger said the driver specifically stated that she wanted to go 100 mph and post it on Snapchat using the app’s miles-per-hour filter. One passenger has said that she witnessed the speed on the Snapchat speed filter reach 113 mph before the crash.
Although the details of every injury accident are unique, it is often possible for victims to seek compensation for a variety of losses, including, but not limited to, medical expenses, pain-and-suffering and lost wages. When a victim suffers permanent damage like a traumatic brain injury, compensation is often possible for anticipated life-long medical care.
If you or a family member is in an accident, it is possible to review your legal rights with an attorney focused on relevant areas of the law. Our firm provides this type of consultation free of charge and without obligation. We fight hard to get our clients the full compensation that they deserve. To learn more about our legal services, please contact us.