Families' lawsuit against Snapchat alleging the platform enables drug dealers allowed to move forward

The lawsuit alleges Snapchat enables drug dealers in reaching minors.

January 3, 2024, 7:42 PM

Dozens of families who are suing Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, won a legal victory Tuesday when a judge in California ruled their lawsuit against the social media giant may continue.

Over 60 family members of children who allegedly obtained illegal drugs through Snapchat are part of the lawsuit, Neville et al v. Snap Inc., which was first filed in October 2022. In all but two cases, the child died after ingesting the drugs allegedly obtained through Snapchat.

Snap previously attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed back in October, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence P. Riff ruled Tuesday that the parents' lawsuit may continue to trial.

In his ruling, the judge overruled Snap's objections to 12 of 16 claims in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that "Snap and Snapchat's role in illicit drug sales to teens was the foreseeable result of the designs, structures, and policies Snap chose to implement to increase its revenues," according to court filings shared by the Social Media Victims Law Center, which is representing the families.

Some of Snapchat's features that set it apart from other apps -- like automatically deleted messages, geolocation functionality and the My Eyes Only privacy feature -- make illegal activities harder to track and are especially attractive to drug dealers, the lawsuit alleges.

Television host Dr. Laura Berman and her husband Sam Chapman's son Sammy was 16 years old and a junior in high school when he died in 2021 after overdosing on a fentanyl-laced pill from a person he allegedly met on Snapchat, according to Chapman and Berman.

"He did not mean to take fentanyl. He did not want to take fentanyl," Berman, whose family is part of the lawsuit, told ABC News in December. "But what he took was counterfeit, and it was fentanyl."

PHOTO: Laura Berman is pictured with her son Sammy, who died in 2021 at the age of 16.
Laura Berman is pictured with her son Sammy, who died in 2021 at the age of 16.
Samuel Chapman

Amy Neville, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told "Good Morning America" in October that her son Alexander was 14 years old and preparing for his freshman year of high school when he died in 2020 after taking a fentanyl-laced oxycodone pill that Neville said he allegedly obtained from a person he met on Snapchat.

"Kids are losing their lives, and they swept it under the rug. They had their chance to do the right thing, and they chose profits over people," Neville told "GMA," referring to Snapchat. "The way that we are going to bring Snapchat and other social media companies to the table is through lawsuits and legislation. That is plain and simple."

PHOTO: Alexander Neville's parents and sister pose with a photo of him and some of his favorite belongings.
Alexander Neville's parents and sister pose with a photo of him and some of his favorite belongings.
Gayle Dawn Photography

In response to the judge's ruling allowing the lawsuit to move forward, Ashley Adams, a spokeswoman for Snap Inc., told "GMA" the social media company will "continue to defend" itself in court.

"The fentanyl epidemic has taken the lives of too many people and we have deep empathy for families who have suffered unimaginable losses," Adams said in a statement. "At Snap, we are working diligently to stop drug dealers from abusing our platform, and deploy technologies to proactively identify and shut down dealers, support law enforcement efforts to help bring dealers to justice, and educate our community and the general public about the dangers of fentanyl."

Adams continued, "While we are committed to advancing our efforts to stop drug dealers from engaging in illegal activity on Snapchat, we believe the plaintiffs' allegations are both legally and factually flawed and will continue to defend that position in court."

Snap Inc. has said previously that the company uses "cutting-edge technology" in trying to keep users safe. The company has also pointed to its work supporting law enforcement investigations into drug dealers, and its work creating a Family Center to help provide parents with more visibility into their kids' actions on Snapchat.

Matthew P. Bergman, the attorney for the families, said that Tuesday's ruling marks a "first" in the effort to "hold social media companies accountable."

"Today's ruling marks the first time a court has allowed parents to hold social media companies accountable for facilitating the sale of deadly drugs," Berman said in a statement Tuesday. "Fentanyl is the largest killer of kids under 18 and social media plays a huge role the deadly drug sales that have resulted in a 350% increase in teen deaths over the past three years."

He continued, "Parents who lost children to fentanyl poisoning will now be able to move forward with lawsuit, uncover evidence of Snapchat's contribution to illegal drug sales and by holding Snap legally accountable spare other families the unspeakable grief they experience every day."

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