The Georgia Court of Appeals revived a personal injury lawsuit against Snapchat, ruling the instant messaging service—whose “speed filter” feature is blamed for causing a serious wreck—is not immune from litigation under the federal Communications Decency Act.
Snapchat was sued after a 2015 incident in which an 18-year-old was reportedly using the speed filter to record herself going more than 100 mph in her father’s Mercedes when she slammed into another vehicle, severely injuring the driver, Wentworth Maynard.
Maynard and his wife sued California-based Snapchat for negligence and loss of consortium in Spalding County State Court.
Judge Josh Thacker granted Snapchat’s motion to dismiss in 2016, ruling the CDA’s protection of online publishers of third-party content immunized it from liability linked to the speed filter, a stylized speedometer superimposed on a picture of the user showing their speed.
The speed filter has been cited in other cases in which drivers wrecked or were stopped for speeding.
Among its provisions, the CDA states that no provider “of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Thacker ruled that Snapchat was a ”publisher” under the CDA and was not liable for content created by third parties.
But Georgia Court of Appeals Judge William Ray II, writing with the concurrence of Presiding Judge Christopher McFadden and Judge Brian Rickman, said Snapchat is not shielded.
The CDA’s “grant of immunity applies only if the interactive computer service provider is not also an ‘information content provider,’ which is defined as someone who is ‘responsible, in whole or part, for the creation or development of’ the offending content,” Ray wrote.
Snapchat cited two federal cases in arguing it was shielded. One involved a suit accusing Backpage.com of publishing advertisements linked to sex trafficking, and another sought to hold Yahoo accountable for failing to remove offensive information a woman’s ex-boyfriend posted online.
In both cases, the service providers were deemed immune because they did not create the offending content.
But the Snapchat case is different, wrote Ray, because the Maynards’ lawsuit “does not seek to hold Snapchat liable as a speaker or publisher of a third party user’s content. Rather, they argue that their complaint seeks to hold Snapchat liable for the negligent creation, design and maintenance of the Speed Filter that encourages excessive speeding, not for the posts themselves.”
“Accordingly, we hold that CDA immunity does not apply because there was no third-party user content published,” he wrote.
The Maynards were represented on appeal by a team of lawyers including, Michael Neff, Darryl Adams and Timothy Peagler of the Law Offices of Michael L. Neff; Michael Terry, Naveen Ramachandrappa and Amanda Bersinger of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore; and Jack Hawkins of Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial.
In an email, Terry said the “plaintiffs appreciate the Court of Appeals’ carefully reasoned opinion and are glad that Wentworth and Karen Maynard will get their day in court.”