NEW YORK — Even in the age of social media, this particular selfie seemed extreme: a teenager strapped into a gurney, with blood running down her forehead, somehow taking the time to tap out a message to her Snapchat friends: “Lucky to be alive.”
The selfie quickly went viral and is a component of a lawsuit filed by a Georgia man accusing the teenager, Christal McGee, of recklessly using Snapchat while driving over 100 miles per hour and slamming into his vehicle last year, leaving him with severe injuries. He is also suing Snapchat, alleging negligence.
After the accident, lawyers for the man, Wentworth Maynard, distributed the photo of McGee on the gurney, leading police to open an investigation into the crash.
According to a police report, McGee, 18 at the time, was driving with three friends in a Mercedes-Benz around 10 p.m. on Sept. 10 in Hampton, Ga. She and her friends maintain that Maynard’s vehicle drifted into their lane, and then McGee crashed into his car. She lost control and ran off the road.
Maynard sustained a “severe traumatic brain injury,” his lawyer said. The police were not able to interview him that night because of his injuries, they said. Neither driver was immediately cited for a traffic violation.
Maynard and his wife filed the lawsuit on April 19. It says McGee began using a Snapchat “lens” that clocks the speed of vehicles, attempting to push her car to higher and higher speeds.
An accident reconstruction determined that McGee was driving 107 miles per hour, the lead lawyer in the lawsuit, Michael L. Neff, wrote on his website. He also published photos of the teen’s selfie and of both cars after the accident, showing the white Mercedes McGee had been driving with a smashed front end and Maynard’s Mitsubishi with a demolished left side and back end.
On Monday, Neff declined to say how he had obtained the Snapchat selfie.
“Wentworth Maynard began a five-week stay in the intensive-care unit, where he was treated for a severe traumatic brain injury,” Neff wrote on his website. Maynard and his wife are suing Snapchat and McGee to recoup all costs associated with the accident and his injuries.
The crash has become a high-profile case in the debate over distracted driving. Because of the dangers, experts are pushing to treat it — and, in some cases, penalize it — like drunken driving.
“It’s dangerous, devastating, crippling, and it’s a killer and still socially acceptable,” Candace Lightner, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a founder of Partnership for Distraction-Free Driving, told The Times.
Attempts to reach McGee were unsuccessful. Last week, her grandfather, James McGee, said the teenager had also been seriously injured and that her family believed Maynard was responsible for the accident.
“He pulled his vehicle out in front of them,” James McGee said, “not giving them enough time to stop. Now they’re trying to lay the rap on her.”
James McGee said that since the accident, Christal McGee had graduated from high school and wanted to join the Air Force, but her plans had been delayed because of the crash. She is working part time, he said.
Her grandfather added: “It’s a big setup for somebody who is young and innocent.”
Maynard’s lawsuit accuses Snapchat of motivating drivers to use the filter to receive a “trophy,” one of the app’s badges given to users after they complete a task. According to Snapchat, the service has never offered trophies for high-speed driving.
A Snapchat spokesman e-mailed this statement: “No Snap is more important than someone’s safety. We actively discourage our community from using the speed filter while driving, including by displaying a ‘Do NOT Snap and Drive’ warning message in the app itself.”
Chief Mark Harris of the Lovejoy Police Department, one of several law enforcement agencies that operate along the road on which the crash occurred, said on Monday that Christal McGee hasn’t been charged with speeding partly because there had been conflicting reports from her passengers about how fast she was driving. But the police have opened an investigation into the crash after reports said that McGee had been using Snapchat, Harris said.