Snapchat Lawsuit Inspires Inaugural Abnormal Use Field Test

Recently, we here at Abnormal Use wrote about a new lawsuit which seeks to hold Snapchat liable for a high speed motor vehicle accident that allegedly occurred as a result of the at-fault motorist’s use of the social media application. Thereafter, we decided to take a more hands-on approach to our work and signed up for the Snapchat. After a week of fiddling with the application, we have a much greater understanding of Snapchat and, thus, a better insight on the lawsuit. Hoping to help our readers who are strangers to Snapchat, we thought we would provide you with out observations and how they relate to the suit’s allegations.

As an initial matter, Snapchat is much different that any other social media app that we have ever used. While we admittedly don’t understand its purpose (perhaps due to our age or our familiarity with much different social media platforms), Snapchat is extremely easy to use. Users can create and post a “snap” with nothing more than the push of a button. When a user opens the Snapchat application, it opens immediately to the camera screen. A quick press of the camera button takes a snap photo. A longer press records a snap video. The user can then dress up the snap with emojis or filters (we will discuss this more later); however, it is not required. The snaps are then saved to the users “story” (which stays live for 24 hours) or sent directly to other users (which are available for 10 seconds after they are viewed). Unknown purpose aside, Snapchat cannot be any simpler.

Twitter and Facebook, on the other hand, require much deeper cognitive processing and interaction from the user. Even though users can (and often do) use the applications to post pictures or videos, Twitter and Facebook typically require the user to think of and type out a sentence or two expressing a thought. Twitter and Facebook require body movements analogous to sending a text message. From a mechanical standpoint, Snapchat and Twitter/Facebook are worlds apart.

What gives Snapchat its character is the ability to alter each photo. Where Instagram focuses primarily on preset filters and borders, Snapchat gives users more personal control over the editing process. At the touch of a button, users can add text, emojis, or drawings. Users also have access to a number of Snapchat filters which can add a somewhat bizarre twist to their photos (i.e. rainbows flowing from mouths, fire emanating from heads, etc.). The ease of use of each alteration is as simple as creating the photo or video in the first place.

The controversy in the Snapchat lawsuit centers around a Snapchat feature we refer to as the “speed filter.” The speed filter utilizes a phone’s GPS system to calculate the speed a user is moving at the time the snap is created. The speed reading is added to the photo/video from the editing screen with a simple swipe to the left. Like the other editing features mentioned above, the speed filter is available as an option only after the photograph or video has been captured.

Being dedicated to our jobs, we put the speed filter to the test. (Not behind the wheel of a car, of course). As a PASSENGER in the front seat of a car and again on the rear of a jet ski, we found the speed function to be fairly accurate, typically measuring speeds within 2-3 mph of that posted on the vehicle’s speedometer. However, the speed filter routinely registered 1-2 mph of speed when sitting still as if it was trying to compensate for the earth’s rotation. Nonetheless, its ease of use was as seamless as the other Snapchat features.

The most important component of our findings and perhaps the most relevant to the lawsuit is that we have yet to find any component of Snapchat that encourages users not to exercise sound judgment. Admittedly, we found no warnings apparent within the application notifying users not to use the speed filter while operating a motor vehicle. Last we checked, there are also no such warnings about plenty of other things which can distract drivers like changing radio stations, applying make-up, or reading the newspaper. We expect motorists to know better when getting behind the wheel of a car. The plaintiff in the lawsuit contends that Snapchat encourages such behavior by awarding users with Snapchat trophies for using the speed filter. It is true that Snapchat has a trophy system to signal various milestones and use of certain features. However, nowhere does Snapchat award a “Using the Speed Filter While Driving” trophy. The speed filter has a completely valid purpose for those traveling on a bike, a horse, a plane, or as passengers in car. We found nothing within Snapchat that encourages users to use the filter while driving or otherwise serve as a substitute for sound judgment.

When you understand what the speed filter actually is and how it operates, it becomes apparent that there is no difference between Snapchat and anything else that conceivably distract a driver.  Now that we can appreciate Snapchat, our initial concerns about the lawsuit resurface. Holding Snapchat liable in this lawsuit opens the door to a whole host of distracted driving lawsuits. Twitter, Facebook, service providers, and cell phone companies all stand in the shoes of Snapchat as potential targets. Taking the argument to its extremes could even lead to suits against any product manufacturer whose product was negligently being used by a distracted driver. The reason these suits are traditionally atypical is that fault lies with the distracted driver. By any negligence standard, the reasonable person knows better than to use a cell phone or application while driving. The true tortfeasor is easily identifiable. No filters necessary.

Friday Links

Okay, so we here at Abnormal Use saw Captain America: Civil War last night, and we were wowed. Go see it, and if you’ve not been following the series of posts by The Legal Geeks on legal issues relating to Captain America, please see here.

Don’t forget! A week from today, our editor, Jim Dedman, speaks on lawyer blogging to the South Carolina Bar in Columbia, South Carolina. For more information, please see here.

The Southeastern Symposium on Mental Health will be held in Greenville, South Carolina next week on May 5-7, 2016. Our own Stuart Mauney will be presenting at the Symposium on “Occupational Hazard: When Doctors or Lawyers Get Depressed.” Stuart is a long time mental health advocate and frequent speaker on mental health issues in the legal profession. For more information, see here.

Next week offers us yet another Friday the 13th. Beware.

Worker’s Compensation Does Not Eliminate the Possibility of a Third Party Tort Claim

Workers Comp

In explaining potential exposure to a number of our clients, we have seen a recurring misconception that has led them to believe that they have minimal or no exposure – that because the injured individual has received worker’s compensation benefits, the injured individual has no claim against any third parties. In South Carolina, it is generally true that the injured individual cannot maintain a lawsuit against his or her employer for an on-the-job injury if the employer maintains worker’s compensation insurance; however, this does not prevent the injured individual from filing a third party tort claim against someone or some entity that is not his or her employer.  Consider the following hypothetical:

Jim Jones is injured while operating a forklift at a manufacturing facility at which he is employed, and he becomes seriously injured.  He goes to see a lawyer.  The lawyer determines that Jones’ employer maintains worker’s compensation insurance and that Jones was injured in the course and scope of his duties.  The lawyer also determines that he can make the argument that the forklift was defective, and that the forklift defect caused Jones’ injuries. You can find more info about the case over here.

In the scenario above, Jones can maintain a worker’s compensation claim against his employer.  He can also file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the forklift. The amount of recovery in the worker’s compensation claim is unaffected by the tort lawsuit; however the worker’s compensation insurance carrier will have a lien against anything that Jones recovers against the forklift operator. In the lawsuit against the forklift operator, no evidence regarding the amounts recovered in the worker’s compensation claim is admissible at trial. Consider the following recovery scenario under our hypothetical above:

Jones recovers $30,000.00 in his worker’s compensation claim. His lawsuit against the forklift manufacturer then goes to trial and the jury awards $60,000.00.

Under the scenario above (without taking into consideration any negotiation of the lien or attorney’s fees), the worker’s compensation insurance carrier would take $30,000.00 of the $60,000.00 awarded by the jury to satisfy its lien, and the $30,000.00 balance would go to Jones. So, the forklift manufacturer is still responsible for paying $60,000.00, but half of the money goes from Jones to his worker’s compensation insurance carrier. To get a lawyer to deal with this you can see more here.

Hopefully this helps to shed light on the interplay between worker’s comp claims and third party tort claims arising out of the same incident. Obviously, this is an extremely oversimplified explanation and there are many other variables and nuances to consider in the real world. But that’s why we are here!

Off-Duty Deputy Punched After Getting Between Food and “Hangry” Customer, Deputy Lucky To Be Alive

On behalf of myself, my wife, and my young children, I would like to take a moment to thank Oklahoma County resident Lindsay Williams for her courage and willingness to take drastic measures to bring national awareness to an all-too common medical condition that is tearing our communities apart. Ms. Williams, we owe you a debt of gratitude for doing what was necessary to bring this unfortunate disease into the national spotlight.

On April 1st at around 12:30 p.m, Ms. Williams was dining at a local Oklahoma City establishment when, through no fault of her own, she was forced to assault a fellow customer. You see, Williams was hungry that day. Scratch that, she was hangry. If you aren’t a member of the medical community, you may be asking yourself – what is “hangry”? The American Journal of Absurd and Fabricated Medical Conditions describes hanger as “a sudden breakdown of mental and emotional stability resulting from extreme hunger.” According to a 2015 study by the National Hunger-Induced Rage Association, this tragic condition affects over five million U.S. citizens every year. Common side effects include uncontrolled screaming at children and pets; sudden outbursts of hysterical crying; and violence towards inanimate objects. In rare circumstances, patients suffering from extreme hanger can experience vivid dreams of entering into a Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest.

Needless to say, Ms. Williams was not someone to be trifled with on the afternoon of April 1st as the hanger flowed through her veins (and stomach). Her first visit to the restaurant’s salad bar went as anyone would expect. She made a beautiful, plush salad using her bare hands to select ingredients for her plate. Did she use the fancy salad tongs provided by the restaurant? Of course not. She was hangry. There’s no time for frilly utensils when your stomach is growling like grizzly bear and your blood is reaching a boiling point. Apparently the first salad didn’t tame the beast because shortly thereafter, Williams returned to the salad bar for round two. As she compiled the freshest ingredients onto her plate, a fellow customer had the audacity to confront Williams about the use of her bare hands to make the salad. BIG MISTAKE. Acting in what any hangry person would deem to be an appropriate fashion, Williams turned to the customer and promptly punched her in the nose.

Williams didn’t know the stranger was an off-duty deputy with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department. But as a husband and father who often has to identify the early signs of hanger to diffuse potentially nuclear situations around the house, I have no doubt the deputy ignored the tell-tale symptoms of hanger displayed by Ms. Williams. Call it a sudden medical emergency, temporary insanity or assumption of risk… but I give Ms. Williams a pass on this one.

UPDATE: One Month In, CPSC Still Shying Away from Losing Battle in Zen Magnets Case

A month ago, we here at Abnormal Use reported on a huge decision in the fight against the draconian measures of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban spherical desktop magnets. In an order dated March 25, 2016, Administrative Law Judge Dean Metry found that small rare earth magnets (“SREMs”) are not defective, did not contain inadequate warnings, and, when sold with appropriate warnings, are not substantial product hazards. The ALJ order came on the heels of a March 22, 2016 decision from a a related case pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado involving Zen Magnets’ sale of certain recalled products it acquired from another company (Star Networks USA) after that company reached a settlement with the CPSC. At the time of our writing, reports on the March 22, 2016 and the recall of “dangerous” magnets dominated the interwebs.

Some four weeks later, a quick Google search for “Zen Magnets” will easily reveal plenty of reports from various entities about the Zen Magnets’ victory. Venture over to the CPSC’s website, however, and the order is buried on a page containing the public filings from all of the CPSC’s adjudicative proceedings. Now, there is nothing wrong with the CPSC placing the order in this location. It is where it belongs, and we certainly wouldn’t expect for a report on a loss to be found front and center on the main page. The problem though is what is on the main page – a highlighted report of the March 22, 2016 decision, banning the sale of recalled products Zen acquired from another company.

Ordinarily, we have no problem with the “highlight your wins, gloss over your losses” approach. It is natural, and we are all guilty of it from time to time. However, when two decisions are issued within a few days of each other and the CPSC chooses to highlight one with the misleading title, “Federal Court Orders Zen Magnets Recall” without proper context, it is a problem. CPSC, you can highlight what you want, but let’s be clear. One decision specifically found that Zen Magnets are not defective and are not substantial hazards.  The other made no specific factual findings about the alleged danger of Zen Magnets themselves, but instead, ordered Zen Magnets to stop selling recalled products it acquired from another company.  When you say, “Federal Court Orders Zen Magnets Recall,” why don’t you let Zen Magnets’ buyers know what that really means?

Some Class Members Unhappy About Uber Class Action Settlement

Uber Settlement

We have previously covered developments in the Uber class action saga here and here. A settlement of one of the class actions has reportedly now been proposed, but it still must be approved by a San Francisco federal judge. The settlement provides a $100 million payout to drivers, which equates to a payout per driver of between twelve dollars to a few thousand dollars, depending on how many miles they drove. However, the deal is apparently contingent upon Uber’s company valuation increasing by 150 percent. There are also non-monetary provisions included in the settlement which are set to expire in two years (but they can be extended if Uber so decides). According to an industry blogger, the following is a sampling of some of the non-monetary provisions of the settlement:

  • Uber will publish a deactivation policy for the first time;
  • There will be an appeal process following deactivation;
  • Drivers can post signs for tips in their vehicles; and
  • There is no more deactivation for low acceptance rates.

The blogger also expressed discontent with the settlement, and his post apparently received over 100 comments.  A hearing on the proposed settlement is set for June, and it will be interesting to see whether the settlement is approved.