This summer, a 28 year-old man was driving along Owasco Street in Auburn, New York when, for no apparent reason, he drove off the road and smashed into a tree. When the police arrived on the scene and interviewed him, they learned what had caused the crash. Was he talking on his cell phone? Nope. Texting? Guess again. Answer: He was playing “Pokemon Go”. Completely immersed in the game, he forgot he was driving a car and crashed into the tree.
For those of you who don’t know about Pokémon Go, it is a HUGELY popular game among Millennials played in “virtual reality” on a smart phone. The game allows its users to travel around looking for “Pokémons” (the name in Japanese means “pocket monsters”), capture them, and then use them to conquer Pokémon “Gyms” (arenas). Players hatch Pokémon “eggs” by walking while playing. Players need to go near “Pokéstops”, which are landmarks where they can pick up things to advance in the game.
The car accident made national news and was a wake up call to local police regarding the dangers of the new “hit” game (pun intended). In the wake of the crash, Auburn police offered the following advice to Pokemon Go players:
- Don’t play the game while driving a car or bicycle.
- Don’t trespass on private property just to “catch” a Pokemon.
- Avoid staring down at your phone and be aware of hazards like roadways, drop-offs and waterways
- Be cautious of who you share your location with.
- Don’t travel alone.
Our response? Duh! This is common sense.
More interesting is the potential liability exposure of the makers of Pokemon Go. They must know that their users are going to be generally young and somewhat immature. And the game is designed to require that the user walk while playing, immersed in a “virtual reality”. This could obviously lead them to inadvertently walk into dangers such as moving vehicles, holes, defects in sidewalks, etc. In Pennsylvania one player did in fact get run over by a car while crossing the street. In California, a couple of players actually walked off a 90-foot ocean bluff!
The game could also lead users into dangerous neighborhoods. In Florida recently two teenagers looking for Pokémon creatures were almost shot when the landowner mistook them for robbers. It doesn’t help that young people get so immersed in the game that they lose their common sense.
Holding the Pokemon Go makers liable for any of this will not be easy. The Pokemon Go makers are not stupid. They obviously consulted with a team of lawyers to try to limit their liability. The game does give users warnings about staying aware of their surroundings, not to walk distracted, and never to drive while playing, etc. But will this be enough to ward off all liability? It will be interesting to see how the law develops in this new area. We’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile . . .
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Syracuse NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.