In Maynard v. Snapchat Inc., No. S21G0555, 2022 Ga. LEXIS 68, the Supreme Court of Georgia reversed and remanded an appellate court decision that dismissed the popular mobile app Snapchat from suit. Plaintiffs Wentworth and Karen Miller (collectively, Plaintiffs) were struck by a driver who was allegedly using the popular social media app at the time of the accident. More specifically, the Plaintiffs alleged the driver was using the Snapchat “Speed Filter” feature, which displays and records your speed on camera. Users can then send video messages to friends that display the speed you were traveling at the time the video was taken. The Plaintiffs alleged that the app was negligently designed and Snapchat was at fault for promoting unsafe driving through use of the Speed Filter.
Snapchat successfully argued that they had no duty to prevent people from driving recklessly or negligently. Further, they argued that the act of speeding was a superseding and intervening act that broke the causal connection between its alleged negligence and the Plaintiffs’ injuries. The trial court dismissed Snapchat at the pleadings stage, and the appellate court affirmed. However, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that the Plaintiffs alleged enough facts at the pleadings stage to show that Snapchat owed them a duty.
Georgia law states that a manufacturer’s duty to use reasonable care in designing products is triggered by reasonably foreseeable risks of harm. And so, the Supreme Court of Georgia believed the Plaintiffs had sufficiently pled that the dangers were foreseeable. They did, however, require further consideration of the proximate cause issue. Thus, the state supreme court asked the appellate court to examine whether the trial court erred in dismissing Snapchat for lack of proximate cause.
Although the Supreme Court of Georgia remanded the case to the appellate court, Snapchat may still succeed on appeal because of the proximate cause issue. Nevertheless, subrogation professionals considering whether to pursue claims against app manufacturers should keep in mind that the foreseeability of risk factor may be argued based on the conduct of third parties, even if not found to be criminal. However, even if a duty is established against an app developer, victory is not guaranteed. Depending on the Georgia appellate court’s ruling, subrogation professionals may have an uphill battle proving the app design was a proximate cause of the damage. Thus, it would be wise to weigh the cost of pursuing a tech giant if the nexus between the app and the damage is not present.