Maynard v. Snapchat, Inc.

Decision Date15 March 2022
Docket NumberS21G0555
Citation313 Ga. 533,870 S.E.2d 739
Parties MAYNARD et al. v. SNAPCHAT, INC.
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court

Naveen Ramachandrappa, Michael Brian Terry, Amanda Kay Seals, Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, LLP, 1201 West Peachtree Street N.W., Suite 3900, Atlanta, Georgia 30309-3417, Michael Lawson Neff, Darryl Dwayne Adams, Susan Mary Cremer, Timothy Shane Peagler, The Law Offices of Michael Lawson Neff, P.C., 3455 Peachtree Rd NE, Ste 509, Atlanta, Georgia 30326, Todd Robert Henningsen, Henningsen Injury Attorneys, P.C., 5855 Sandy Springs Circle Suite 300, Atlanta, Georgia 30328, for Appellant.

Brian DeVoe Rogers, Rogers & Fite, LLC, 4355 Cobb Pkwy, Ste J564, Atlanta, Georgia 30339, Lyle Griffin Warshauer, Warshauer Law Group, PC, 2740 Bert Adams Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30339, Paul Isaac Hotchkiss, Hotchkiss Law Firm LLC, 185 E. Lake Ter. SE, Atlanta, Georgia 30317, Jonathan Andrew Pope, Hasty Pope Davies, LLP, 509 Green Street, Gainesville, Georgia 30114, Nkosi John Bey, Bey and Associates, LLC, 191 Peachtree Street, NE, 33rd Floor, Atlanta, Georgia 30308, Andrew Steven Ashby, The Ashby Firm, 445 Franklin Gateway SE, Marietta, Georgia 30067, for Amicus Appellant.

John Blackston Major, Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, 350 S. Grand Ave., 50th Floor, Los Angeles, California 90071, Anne Dodson Gower, Gower Wooten & Darneille LLC, 4200 Northside Parkway NW, Bldg 12, Atlanta, Georgia 30327, Robert David Johnson, Johnson & Alday, LLC, 219 Roswell Street, Marietta, Georgia 30060, for Appellee.

W. Ray Persons, King & Spalding LLP, 1180 Peachtree Street, N.E., Suite 2300, Atlanta, Georgia 30309, Michael L. Eber, Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP, 1105 W. Peachtree St. NE, Suite 1000, Atlanta, Georgia 30309, for Amicus Appellee.

Colvin, Justice.

While driving over 100 miles per hour, Christal McGee rear-ended a car driven by Wentworth Maynard, causing him to suffer severe injuries. When the collision occurred, McGee was using a "Speed Filter" feature within Snapchat, a mobile phone application, to record her real-life speed on a photo or video that she could then share with other Snapchat users. Wentworth and his wife, Karen Maynard, sued McGee and Snapchat, Inc. ("Snap"),1 alleging that Snap had negligently designed Snapchat's Speed Filter. The trial court dismissed the design-defect claim against Snap, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Snap did not owe a legal duty to the Maynards because a manufacturer's duty to design reasonably safe products does not extend to people injured by a third party's intentional and tortious misuse of the manufacturer's product. See Maynard v. Snapchat, Inc. , 357 Ga. App. 496, 500, 502, 851 S.E.2d 128 (2020).

On certiorari, we conclude that the Court of Appeals erred. For the reasons discussed below, a manufacturer has a duty under our decisional law to use reasonable care in selecting from alternative designs to reduce reasonably foreseeable risks of harm posed by its products. When a particular risk of harm from a product is not reasonably foreseeable, a manufacturer owes no design duty to reduce that risk. How a product was being used (e.g., intentionally, negligently, properly, improperly, or not at all) and who was using it (the plaintiff or a third party) when an injury occurred are relevant considerations in determining whether a manufacturer could reasonably foresee a particular risk of harm from its product. Nevertheless, our decisional law does not recognize a blanket exception to a manufacturer's design duty in all cases of intentional or tortious third-party use. Because the holding of the Court of Appeals conflicts with these principles, and because the Maynards adequately alleged that Snap could reasonably foresee the particular risk of harm from the Speed Filter at issue here, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings.

1. In their second amended complaint, the Maynards alleged that, around 10:15 p.m. on September 10, 2015, McGee crashed her car into the back of Wentworth's vehicle while driving 107 miles per hour. According to the Maynards, McGee told her three passengers right before the crash that she was "just trying to get the car to 100 m.p.h. to post it on Snapchat" using Snapchat's Speed Filter.

The Maynards asserted a negligence claim and a derivative loss-of-consortium claim against McGee and Snap, seeking damages, punitive damages, and litigation expenses. In relevant part, the Maynards alleged that Snap had negligently designed the Speed Filter feature of the Snapchat application. Specifically, they alleged that Snap "owed a duty to use ordinary care in designing ... its products, including but not limited to Snapchat's Speed Filter." "Snap[ ] breached that duty," the Maynards alleged, because (1) Snap "did not remove, abolish, restrict access to, or otherwise use reasonable care to address the danger created by Snapchat's Speed Filter and other products," (2) Snap's "design decisions regarding its Speed Filter and other products [were] unreasonable and negligent," and (3) Snap's "disclaimers [and warnings were] also inadequate, unreasonable, and knowingly ineffective." The Maynards further alleged that Snap had designed its products to "encourage" dangerous behaviors and could "reasonably foresee[ ]" that the "Speed Filter was motivating, incentivizing, or otherwise encouraging its users to drive at excessive, dangerous speeds in violation of traffic and safety laws." Finally, the Maynards alleged that Wentworth was injured "[a]s a result of [Snap's] negligence," which was "concurrent with McGee's negligence."

Snap answered the complaint, attaching copies of its Terms of Use and a "pop-up warning" that, according to Snap, "a user first accessing the Snapchat ‘speed filter’ would see." The Terms of Use stated that the user agreed not to use Snapchat "for any illegal or unauthorized purpose," and the warning stated, "Please, DO NOT Snap and drive." Snap then moved to dismiss the Maynards’ second amended complaint for failure to state a claim or, in the alternative, for judgment on the pleadings.

The trial court granted Snap's motion, dismissing the Maynards’ claims without leave to amend for two reasons. First, the court concluded that Snap owed no legal duty to the Maynards because Snap did not owe a duty as a manufacturer to design its product to prevent McGee from driving dangerously or to control McGee's conduct. Second, the court concluded that the Maynards could not establish proximate causation because (a) a driver's inattention, not a mobile phone application, causes a driver to wreck a car, and (b) McGee's criminal and negligent driving, as reflected in her May 17, 2018 plea of no contest to serious injury by vehicle, constituted a superseding and intervening cause that broke the causal chain. The trial court also granted Snap's motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that McGee's violation of Snap's Terms of Use and disregard for Snap's pop-up warning broke the causal chain.

The Court of Appeals granted the Maynards’ application for an interlocutory appeal, and a divided panel affirmed the trial court's determination that Snap did not owe a legal duty to the Maynards. See Maynard , 357 Ga. App. at 498, 502, 851 S.E.2d 128.2 We granted certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the dismissal of the Maynards’ second amended complaint.

2. We review de novo a trial court's ruling on a motion to dismiss, "accepting as true all well-pled material allegations in the complaint and resolving any doubts in favor of the plaintiff." Williams v. DeKalb County , 308 Ga. 265, 270 (2), 840 S.E.2d 423 (2020) (punctuation omitted). "The existence of a legal duty," which can arise by statute or be imposed by decisional law, "is a question of law for the court." Rasnick v. Krishna Hospitality, Inc. , 289 Ga. 565, 566-567, 713 S.E.2d 835 (2011).

Because Georgia's product-liability law is a creature of both statute and decisional law, there is more than one source for the duties that manufacturers owe with respect to the design of their products. By statute, Georgia "imposes strict liability [on manufacturers] for defective products." Banks v. ICI Americas, Inc. , 264 Ga. 732, 733 (1), 450 S.E.2d 671 (1994) ; see also Johns v. Suzuki Motor of Am., Inc. , 310 Ga. 159, 163 (3), 850 S.E.2d 59 (2020) ("[S]trict products liability imposes liability irrespective of negligence." (punctuation omitted)). Georgia's strict-product-liability statute provides:

The manufacturer of any personal property sold as new property directly or through a dealer or any other person shall be liable in tort, irrespective of privity, to any natural person who may use, consume, or reasonably be affected by the property and who suffers injury to his person or property because the property when sold by the manufacturer was not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended, and its condition when sold is the proximate cause of the injury sustained.

OCGA § 51-1-11 (b) (1). As we have explained, the phrase "not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended," as used in this statute, means that "the manufacturer's product when sold by the manufacturer was defective." Center Chem. Co. v. Parzini , 234 Ga. 868, 869 (2), 218 S.E.2d 580 (1975). There are several ways in which a product can be "defective," including by being defectively designed. See Banks , 264 Ga. at 733 (1), 450 S.E.2d 671 ("There are three general categories of product defects: manufacturing defects, design defects, and marketing/packaging defects."). Accordingly, under Georgia's product-liability statute, a manufacturer who sells a product has a duty to ensure that the product it sells does not have a design defect. See id. ; see also OCGA § 51-1-11 (b) (1).

Similarly, under our decisional law, when designing a product, a manufacturer has a duty to exercise reasonable care in "selecting from among alternative product...

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