😬 The Snapchat lawsuit that may change years of legal precedent 

As we’ve written many times, Section 230, the law giving internet companies immunity from lawsuits based on content made by users, may undergo reform thanks to pressure from both sides of the political aisle.  

But a federal appeals court is already picking it apart, according to NPR. 

  • Snapchat was recently sued over the “speed filter” on its app: Three teenagers had been using Snap to document their 120 mph-plus drive on backroads in Wisconsin when they crashed into a tree and died. The family sued, arguing the Snap filter was partially to blame for their death. A trial court threw out the case, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it could proceed. 

  • Section 230 has traditionally kept these cases from getting far: But this time the court deemed the design of the app itself to be the problem, rather than the content created by the user. Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote, "This type of claim rests on the premise that manufacturers have a 'duty to exercise due care in supplying products that do not present an unreasonable risk of injury or harm to the public.'"   

There’s no guarantee this will be more than a narrow ruling

For now, the case goes back to the original trial court. If that court also deems Section 230 inapplicable, then we could see some major legal questions arise.

  • In the meantime, experts anticipate trial lawyers to bring new cases against tech companies, albeit with limited success. "I don't think that this opinion actually will open up the Pandora's Box of saying, 'You can sue a website for how it's designed under all circumstances,'" Santa Clara law professor Eric Goldman told NPR.  

The Verdict

Given this new ruling, which contrasts with decisions made by the other federal appeals courts, the Supreme Court may be more likely to take up Section 230 in the near future.