Pokemon Go is everywhere. The app is now known throughout the world and has become one of the most downloaded and used mobile games ever. The uniqueness of its interface has brought a new set of questions and problems to the public consciousness, and although there are no major legal issues that have come into play yet, the spate of bizarre incidents surrounding the game leads any inquisitive mind to wonder how the law will handle Pokemon Go-related liability questions.
How it Works
The game is unique in that it uses augmented reality, a type of game that interacts with the user’s actual surroundings. Using a phone’s camera and GPS, the game encourages players to look for and find various characters in their real world environment.
So, for example, the game may “hide” a character in the local shopping mall. To find it, the user must go to the mall, with the game open on the phone, and the game will show the character superimposed through the phone’s camera. The game knows the user is at the mall by accessing the phone’s GPS, and the character will look like it is sitting right there in the mall.
The characters can be anywhere in a user’s local environment, and users are encouraged by the game to search for and find them.
Accidents are Happening
Unfortunately, users have become so engulfed in the game and in searching for characters, they have often been led to places they should not be going, or did not anticipate going. Some of these incidents have been detailed by major news organizations.
Users have stumbled upon dead bodies while looking for characters. Some, with their heads buried in the phone trying to locate characters, have sustained minor injuries, from bumping into objects, to more serious and catastrophic injuries, such as walking into lakes, being hit by cars, or falling off of cliffs.
In some cases, Pokemon Go players have been injured by others around them. One man, still searching for a character on the game, was arrested when he would not leave a park that was closing. Assaults have been reported by others who believe that Pokemon players were photographing them. The list goes on.
Reasonable Care for our Safety
There are a number of liability issues that could arise when people are injured playing the Pokemon app. The first issue is perhaps the most obvious—the requirement that we all have to exercise reasonable care concerning our own safety.
Injury law in Florida allows a jury to apportion liability between a negligent defendant and a victim’s own negligence. Thus, a jury can significantly reduce an injury award or refuse to find for an injured victim who wanders into traffic because he or she is playing Pokemon.
For example, if a jury thinks an accident victim’s injury is worth $100,000, but the victim was 90% responsible for his or her own injuries because he or she was playing Pokemon at the time of the accident, the victim would be awarded only $10,000.
Florida law also provides for different requirements on landowners depending on whether you are on property with permission or not. When you walk into a store that is open, you are an invitee, owed a duty of reasonable care. But when you stay in that store after it closes—or worse, break into it after hours to catch a Pokemon character, or scale your neighbor’s fence, as some players have been known to do when tracking down a Pokemon character—you are now a trespasser, and the landowner may owe little or no duty towards you. Thus, if you are injured on their property, there may be no way to recover for your injuries at all.
However, there is a basic premise in the law that even if you are a trespasser, a landowner still may have an obligation to use some level of care to keep the premises safe or to warn of unsafe conditions.
Thus, in areas where it is well known that Pokemon players are coming to congregate, or where their presence is tacitly accepted, businesses may have to keep players out or take precautions to maintain their property safely.
Dangers in Cars
Pokemon dangers are not limited to walking around. According to one report, the app will not work if the user is driving, but it only considers speeds over 20mph as driving. As a result, many people have been spotted in their cars, plodding along at slow speeds, obstructing traffic as they look at their phone. Needless to say, any driver who causes an injury while doing this would be considered negligent.
In another distressing aspect of the game, users can drop what are known as lures, which bring characters to a given location, and with them, other app users. Unfortunately there have been reports of people purposefully using lures to bait people into becoming crime victims.
Even without lures being put down purposely, people wandering with their heads in their phones make tempting crime victims. Although landowners can be held liable for failures to provide adequate security when their invitees are injured by criminals, there will always be a defense that the victim could have and should have avoided the incident, had he or she not been chasing Pikachu.
If you were injured while playing Pokemon Go, contact the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi for a free consultation to discuss your case.