A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does not immunize Snapchat from a lawsuit claiming that its”Speed Filter” contributed to the deaths of 2 sons that died in a car accident when using the app to record themselves going 123 mph.
The lawsuit was filed with the sons’ living parents and alleged that the filter–which basically acts as a speedometer by grabbing a user’s speed over the social media program –has been negligently designed and encouraged their kids to drive at dangerous rates.
According to the lawsuit, Jason Davis, 17, Hunter Morby, 17, and Landen Brown, 20, at 2017 were driving at high speeds on Cranberry Road at Wisconsin when the car ran off the street and hit a tree going roughly 113 miles and burst into flames. Just before the wreck, Brown had started the Snapchat Speed Filter in his cell phone.
Snapchat responded by claiming that the company was protected by Section 230 since the Speed Filter is nothing more than a material generation tool within the platform which requires real publishing to come from third party consumers. In short, the company argued that holding it accountable for making the filter could in effect be creating it accountable for third party content in breach of law.
But a three-judge panel about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday reversed Fitzgerald’s conclusion, reasoning that the fundamental issue in the case concerned Snapchat’s product design, not whether it was accountable for articles created and posted by users within the app.
“Plaintiffs’ threatening design suit handled Snap, Inc. as a products producer, accusing it of negligently designing a product (Snapchat) with a defect (the interplay between Snapchat’s reward system and its own Rate Filter); thus, the obligation which Snap, Inc. allegedly violated arose from its own distinct capacity as a product developer,” the court stated. “In short, Snap, Inc. was sued because of the predictable effects of designing Snapchat in this manner that it purportedly encouraged hazardous behaviour. Accordingly, the panel concluded that Snap, Inc. did not enjoy immunity in the suit under? 230.”
According to the courtthe difference in the underlying claim was critical since a cause of action against a producer for negligent design needs a markedly distinct legal investigation in relation to an action brought against a publisher as described under the Communications Decency Act.
“It is therefore evident that the Parents’ amended complaint does not seek to maintain liable for its conduct as a publisher or speaker,” the court wrote. “Their hierarchical layout lawsuit treats Snap as a products producer, accusing it of negligently designing a merchandise (Snapchat) using a flaw (the interplay between Snapchat’s reward strategy as well as the Speed Filter). Thus, the duty that Snap allegedly violated”springs from” its distinct capacity as a product designer”
The panel remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings.
Read the entire ruling below.
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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