In product liability cases, manufacturers of products have a duty to make their products safe for the reasonably intended use. For example, cars need to be built so that the airbags deploy properly when there is a collision. If the product is defective and the defect causes an accident, then the makers of the product can be held strictly liable for the injuries that occur due to the accident.
In negligence cases, people who owe a duty of care to other people must use reasonable care. If the lack of reasonable care causes an accident, then the victims have the right to file a damage claim for their injuries. Drivers generally owe a duty to other drivers to obey the traffic laws including speeding laws.
A recent Georgia appellate court case reviewed a complex accident involving a product that the victims claim was defective. The injured plaintiffs filed a negligence claim against the driver, Christal McGee, of an automobile that was going 100 mph. The negligence of that driver was clear.
The complex issue was whether the plaintiffs had a negligence claim against Snapchat Inc., the makers of a smartphone with a “Speed Filter” feature. The Speed Filter application allows drivers and passengers to take pictures showing how fast their car is traveling. The defendant McGee and several passengers in McGee’s car essentially tried to use the Speed Filter feature to show they could travel at 100mph. While they were using the feature, the distracted McGee drove into the victims’ vehicle.
The plaintiffs did not bring a product liability claim against Snapchat, but they did file a negligence claim against Snapchat, asserting that the company owed them a duty of care and that the company failed to take proper safety measures with the Speed Filter application.
The fundamental issues in the case were the following: did Snapchat owe a duty of care to people traveling in another car, and did it breach that duty by failing to design its app so that drivers like McGee couldn’t drive recklessly or negligently?
The court’s reasoning
The appellate court ruled that Snapchat did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiffs/victims.
Torts (negligence cases) require that the plaintiffs prove the following:
- The defendant owed the plaintiffs a duty of care
- The duty was breached
- The breach caused the injuries
- The damages are due to the breach
In analyzing whether a defendant owes a duty of care, courts review whether the duty is established by statute – a state or federal law – or by precedent through previous court cases.
The court continued its analysis by discussing a court case that uses a “risk-utility balancing test.” That test requires that the court/jury “evaluate design defectiveness under a test balancing the risks inherent in a product design against the utility of the product.”
The court reasoned that plaintiffs’ claim of a duty is predicated on the conduct of the driver, Ms. McGee. The appellate court then emphasized that “there is no general legal duty to all the world not to subject others to an unreasonable risk of harm.” The court said, “[A]s a general rule, there is no duty to control the conduct of third persons to prevent them from causing physical harm to others. . .” There are exceptions but the court ruled those exceptions don’t apply.
Although manufacturers have “a duty to exercise reasonable care in manufacturing its products so as to make products that are reasonably safe for intended or foreseeable uses, this duty does not extend to the intentional (not accidental) misuse of the product in a tortious way by a third party”
The court declined to find that, although the Snapchat Filter feature encourages risky behavior, there was any “specific reward system or status ranking predicated on misusing it while driving or generating higher speeds.”
In short, the court ruled that it is the user’s duty to drive safely while using the app because virtually every product is capable of causing harm when it is misused.
At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, we handle both negligence claims and product liability claims. We work with investigators, product safety experts, and your doctors to help show the defendants breached their duty of care or manufactured defective products. To discuss any negligence or product liability case, please call the experienced trial lawyers at Bailey & Greer, PLLC. You can reach our Memphis and Jackson lawyers at 901-475-7434 or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation.
Since graduating magna cum laude in 2005 from the University of Memphis School of Law, Thomas has helped make a difference in the lives of victims of serious personal injury, wrongful death, and professional negligence. Thomas has extensive trial experience in both state and federal court. Among other victories in the courtroom, Thomas obtained several impressive jury verdicts and settlements
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