Bereaved parents taking legal action against Snapchat over drug deaths

Leticia Juarez Image
Friday, October 20, 2023
Bereaved parents suing Snapchat over kids' drug deaths
In the lawsuit, parents claim that Snapchat fails to protect children from drug dealers.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Heartbroken parents stood together on the steps of the Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse prepared to do battle with Snapchat.

The parents blame the social media behemoth for facilitating sales of drugs that led to the deaths of their children.

"We are here today because Snapchat is an accomplice in the death of our children and we are suing them from negligence," said parent Sam Chapman.

In 2020, Chapman lost his 16-year-old son, Sammy, to a fentanyl-laced pill he allegedly got through someone on Snapchat.

It's the same story for Amy Neville. A year earlier she lost her 14-year-old son, Alexander, after he took a fentanyl-laced oxycodone pill he allegedly obtained through a drug dealer he met on Snapchat.

"It is too late for our families but today we are here to do the uncomfortable work to keep this from happening to others," said Amy Neville.

A judge will determine if the parents' lawsuit against Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, can move forward or if the company's motion to dismiss the lawsuit should be granted.

"They believe they have protection under the First Amendment or under Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, but Judge Kuhl on Friday ruled that those protections do not shield them from negligence," said Chapman.

The lawsuit alleges the social media platform's unique features - such as automatically deleted messages and geolocation functionality - make it harder to track illegal activities and enable drug dealers to easily reach minors and young adults.

"These platforms need to be made safe for our children. Se cannot do this as parents alone. We need the controls. The laws need to be made to make these platforms safe for our children," said Kim Osterman, who lost her son to fentanyl.

The lawsuit doesn't ask for monetary damages. Instead it demands Snap change its design, structure and policies - which parents say the social media company ignored in pursuit of profits.

"Every single one of these kids purchased a counterfeit pill on Snapchat. It's because Snapchat's product is broken," said Carrie Goldberg, an attorney representing parents.

Eyewitness News reached out to Snap Inc. The company said it won't comment on the ongoing litigation but said in a statement:

"It is devastating that the national fentanyl epidemic has taken the lives of so many people and we have great empathy for families who have suffered unimaginable losses. At Snap, we are working hard to stop dealers from abusing our platform. We do this by deploying advanced technologies to proactively find and remove dealers, working closely with law enforcement, collaborating with other technology companies, and by having a zero-tolerance policy where we shut off the infringer's account."