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Georgia Court of Appeals Rules No General Duty to Prevent Driver's Intentional and Tortious Misuse of Cell Phone Application

October 30, 2020 BY DEF Admin

In a 2-1 decision issued today, the Court of Appeals of Georgia affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ case against Snapchat in Maynard et al. v. Snapchat, Inc. (Case No. A20A1218) 

Plaintiffs sued Snapchat and driver Christal McGee for damages as a result of a car accident which was allegedly caused by McGee’s use of Snapchat’s speed filter. The filter allowed users to “record their speed and overlay that speed onto a Snapchat photo or video” to share on social media. On the evening in question, McGee accelerated to 100mph so she could capture the speed on a photograph using the Speed Filter. Due to her distraction and unsafe speed, she rear-ended Plaintiff’s vehicle. 

Plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s grant of Snapchat’s motion to dismiss, arguing the complaint sufficiently plead Snapchat’s violation of its duty to use reasonable care in designing the Speed Filter product. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued that Snapchat “negligently designed the Speed Filter, encouraging users to endanger themselves and others on the roadway.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal and held that Snapchat did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs to alter its product design to prevent the injuries allegedly caused by McGee. 

While the dissent relied on the risk-utility balancing test for negligence in a design defect case, the Court held the applicability of that test does not obviate the requirement to identify a legal duty. Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleged driver McGee’s misuse of the Speed Filter is what caused the injury. As such, any liability on the part of Snapchat is predicated on McGee’s conduct and under Georgia law, there is no “general legal duty to all the world not to subject others to an unreasonable risk of harm.” See Rasnick v. Krishna Hospitality, Inc., 289 Ga. 565, 567 (2011). Additionally, the Court noted the general rule that  there is “no duty to control the conduct of third persons to prevent them from causing physical harm others” unless (1) a special relationship exists between the actor and another imposing a duty on the actor to control such person’s conduct for the benefit of third persons or (2) a special relationship exists between the actor giving such person a right to protection. Neither exceptions applied in this case. Graham Stanley v. Garrett (Case No. A20A0894, decided Sept. 17, 2020). There is no general duty under Georgia law to prevent people from committing torts while misusing a manufacturer’s product. 

Here, the injuries arose out of McGee’s intentional (and non-accidental) misuse of a product in a tortious way. It is up to the user to avoid dangerously misusing the application. The Court declined to extend a duty on Snapchat to control or avoid the tortious conduct of a third party. The Court concluded by stating “If we were to default to the risk-utility balancing test in this case without identifying a legal duty, it would eliminate the plaintiffs’ burden to assert the elements of a cognizable tort claim.”

Court Opinion 

For questions regarding this Opinion or Drew Eckl & Farnham’s appellate practice, please contact Elissa Haynes. 

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Elissa Haynes

(404) 885-6243

[email protected]

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