Last week, the Ninth Circuit ruled in Lemmon v. Snap, Inc., No. 20-55295 (May 4 2021), that 47 U.S.C. § 230 (“Section 230”) did not bar a claim of negligent product design against Snap, Inc., reversing and remanding a lower court ruling.
Section 230 protects interactive computer service providers such as Snapchat from being “treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” and historically courts have construed this language broadly to protect such providers from being liable for content posted by third parties on their sites.
The plaintiff-appellants in Lemmon were the parents of teenagers who died in a fatal car accident after one of the teenagers posted content on Snapchat using the app’s “Speed Filter,” which depicts the rate of speed at which a user is traveling. The plaintiffs alleged that Snapchat knew or should have known that the Speed Filter would create an incentive for users to drive at dangerous speeds.
The lower court held that Section 230 protected Snapchat from liability arising from the conduct of the teenagers, but the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding that Section 230 was not implicated because the plaintiffs did not seek to hold Snapchat liable as a publisher or speaker; rather, they sought to hold Snapchat liable for negligent product design. The Ninth Circuit found that the duty to produce a safe product was independent of Snapchat’s role in monitoring or publishing third-party content on its app.