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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Drivers Under The Influence of Pokémon Go Crash

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A recent article on CartelPress.com stated that countless were left dead on a Massachusetts highway when a 26-year-old stopped in the middle of the road to catch a Pikachu. There were nearly 400,000 shares on Facebook in just a couple of days.

While this particular story is false, Auburn, New York police have reported the first major car crash due to a man being distracted by the game while behind the wheel.

The driver admitted to being distracted by Pokémon Go when he drove off the road and crashed into a tree. He was lucky to escape with only a broken ankle and cuts on both legs. Police said the driver’s injuries could have been much worse as the impact of the crash nearly sent the vehicle engine into the passenger compartment. Thankfully, no one was in the now crumpled passenger seat.

Here’s what the car looks like now:

PokemonGo Car

That may have been the first reported auto accident due to a driver under the influence of Pokémon Go, but it seems new reports are coming in almost daily.

Last Saturday, a man playing the game while driving ended up colliding with a Baltimore police officer’s parked patrol car. The officers had just responded to a 911 call and were standing on the sidewalk when a Toyota RAV4 slammed into the patrol car at high speed. The driver got out of his car holding his smartphone so police could see the game. “That’s what I get for playing this dumb a** game,” he said. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Washington State Police cited a man for causing a rear-end collision on Monday after he admitted to playing Pokémon Go while driving. No injuries were reported.

Despite a speed-based feature that discourages a player from driving to hatch Pokémon eggs (players can’t accumulate points if traveling more than 20 mph), there does not appear to be a speed-based feature that discourages players from catching Pokémon or collecting items from PokéStops. Could this create liability issues for Niantic, the game’s developer?

A full-screen warning is displayed during loading that warns users against distracted playing, including warnings against playing while driving. A warning also pops up every time the app is opened, telling players to aware of their surroundings. The game’s Terms of Service (TOS) include a disclaimer that says the company is not liable for any property damage, injuries or deaths that result while playing. Although app users acknowledge the liability disclaimer, it may not apply in certain situations. For example, if a player causes a car crash, the disclaimer may not extend to an injured third party.

In the event of a serious accident or death due to a distracted player, innocent victims may look to legal precedent from the case in which a woman sued Snapchat for distraction-related negligence.

The lawsuit alleges that Snapchat knew its users might use the “smart filter” service (which allows users to overlay their traveling speed on top of an image) in a way that could distract them while driving. The suit also claims that the driver was distracted when she used the “smart filter” to post a photo of herself going fast which led to a crash with the victim’s vehicles, causing the victim to suffer severe injuries.

Will Niantic’s Terms of Service insulate it completely from liability claims by injured? Stay tuned. In the meantime, be careful out there. “As you battle, train, and capture your Pokémon just remember you’re still in the real world,” warned San Francisco Police Department.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.