Whether you've been injured in a car crash due to another driver's distraction by photo filter or are the victim of leaked personal photos distributed to the public via a dating app, you may be wondering whether you have any legal recourse against the app manufacturer in addition to the person who directly injured you. With more than 1,000 new apps hitting the market each day, some unpleasant consequences of reckless app use may be all but inevitable. Read on to learn more about app manufacturers' liability in these types of situations, as well as some of your options if you find yourself battling physical or mental consequences due to another's use of a mobile or tablet application.
When may an app manufacturer be liable for personal injuries?
Personal injury law is a type of tort law that encompasses a wide variety of injuries -- from physical injuries suffered during a car crash or slip-and-fall accident to mental distress caused by another person's distribution of private photos or even financial damages like job loss due to defamation or slander. For a court to find someone legally responsible in these situations, you'll need to prove that the party alleged to be responsible owed you a duty of care, breached this duty, and that this breach directly resulted in your physical, mental, or economic injury.
An app manufacturer will often require users to agree to a "Terms and Conditions" document before the app is available for download. This document usually contains language specifically exempting the app manufacturer from liability for any criminal misuse of the app or injuries caused by someone using the app for other than its intended purpose. In many cases, a user who agrees to this release of liability is taking sole legal responsibility for any injuries that result from the use of the app.
For example, a dating app that instructs users to upload only non-nude photos of themselves is unlikely to be legally responsible if a user instead uploads a nude picture of someone else. As this is not the intended purpose (or a reasonably foreseen use) of the app, the manufacturer won't be responsible for the offending individual's unforeseen actions. On the other hand, an app that encourages users to upload photos or reviews of their exes could be deemed liable for injuries resulting from the foreseen use of this app -- like the posting of underage nude photos (if there aren't strong restrictions enforced) or use of the site for blackmail purposes. If you lost your job after nude pictures were posted on a "rate your ex" website, or if you were forced to hand over money to your ex to avoid having your picture posted, you may have a cause of action against both the person who uploaded the photos and the app manufacturer.
What are your options if you feel an app manufacturer is responsible in part for your distress?
In order to successfully bring a personal injury claim against an app manufacturer, you'll need to establish several key elements. Failure to prove these early in your case (often as early as the initial pleading) can result in its dismissal before trial, so it's important to seek legal counsel from a lawyer like Jon D. Caminez, PA before filing any documents to ensure you preserve all your rights.
You'll first need to show that your injury resulted from a reasonably foreseen use of the app. This can establish that the app manufacturer breached its duty of care to you by marketing an app that not only permitted, but encouraged, the person responsible to cause you harm.
You'll also need to show that you were actually damaged. This is tantamount to the "if a tree falls in the forest with no one to hear it, does it make a sound?" adage -- if someone violated their duty of care to you but this violation didn't result in any measurable damages, you're not owed compensation. Absent physical harm, mental distress can be a compensable injury, but only if you can prove that this distress affected your daily life. If you're unable to establish this and you didn't suffer any other consequences (like job loss), maintaining a cause of action can be difficult.