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Pokemon Go: A Potential Product Liability Issue for the App Economy

Any law firm that handles the defense of product liability cases are going to – at some point – have to deal with a case involving the app economy.

A mobile app, commonly just referred to as apps are software applications designed specifically to work on tablets or smartphones. The first time consumers experienced these apps was with the introduction of “native apps.” These are the ones that increased user’s productivity or that provided general information from the internet. Some of the native apps most people are familiar with include calendar, email, web browser, and stock ticker, which are all features that usually come pre-bundled with a device.

However, just a short time after the smartphone was introduced, software designers also began to build apps beyond these native options. Today the reach and ability of apps are virtually limitless. In fact, there are apps for buying items, procuring services, monitoring a personal health, entertainment, and more. The majority of these apps are free, even games and apps for entertainment purposes.

A new issue is if courts are going to view these apps as actual products that are viewed as traditional, tangible items within the legal definition of product liability. There are some apps that connect service providers with consumers who are looking for the services they offer. In these situations, this type of app is not the end product used by a consumer, but rather a service offered by an independent contractor, such as a handyman or house cleaner.

An example of an app that doesn’t really offer a product that has gained quite a bit of attention recently in the marketplace is the Pokemon GO app. The app is the item that consumers want and as a result, they are likely going to be viewed by the court under the product liability doctrine.

Due to the widespread publicity of this app, it is easy to see the type of allegations, which may be created by product liability claimants. In fact, there are a number of media outlets that have reported that Pokemon Go players have actually walked into hazardous situations because they were so focused on the game and not aware of what was going on beyond the screen. There are also reports that players followed the instructions offered by the app so closely that they don’t hesitate to trespass onto private property and many game players have been the victims of various violent crimes they never even saw coming.

Right now, there is no specific law in place dictating the responsibility of app creators. As a result, there are some who wonder what legal repercussions app users have. While the question may be up in the air now, chances are clarity is going to be gained pretty quickly as more and more apps similar to Pokemon GO and other potentially dangerous games or sources of entertainment are created.