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Social Media Victims Law Center files wrongful death lawsuit against Snapchat for its role in the deaths of nine minors and young adults across six states
Snapchat’s features like disappearing messages and “My Eyes Only” create an environment where drug dealers can find new clients and operate without fear of prosecution by law enforcement
LOS ANGELES – March 2, 2023 – The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal resource for parents of children and teenage victims harmed by social media addiction and online abuse, has filed its fifth wrongful death lawsuit in the last five months against Snap, Inc. alleging that Snapchat’s disappearing messages, “My Eyes Only” and “Snap Map” features, among others unique to Snapchat encourage, enable, and facilitate illegal and deadly drug sales of counterfeit pills containing lethal doses of Fentanyl to minors and young adults.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles (Case No. 23SMCV00835), alleges that Snapchat’s product design created an environment that allows a “Snapchat Drug Cartel” operate in a manner that directly contributed to the deaths of nine minors and young adults in Florida, Colorado, California, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Louisiana, each who died after taking Fentanyl laced pills and/or edibles purchased from drug dealers connected to them by Snapchat. According to the lawsuit, in one instance a minor died after taking what he believed to be an edible, marijuana candy, which turned out to be laced with deadly amounts of Fentanyl.
The lawsuit also alleges that Snapchat provides drug dealers with a never-ending source of vulnerable customers, purposefully obstructs parental supervision and creates unhealthy social media addictions by design. Additionally, Snapchat enables dealers to locate and access nearby minors and young adults, affirmatively connects them to these young clients and the posting and exchange of drug menus and other information that disappear within 24 hours – erasing all evidence of the crime.
“Snapchat markets itself as a fun social media photo app featuring funny filters to hook minors and young adults,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of SMVLC. “However, what starts out as a silly pastime quickly turns dark as Snapchat’s algorithm purposefully addicts its users to the rush of obtaining user ‘likes’ and recommending dangerous and addictive content. Before long, and sometimes when it’s too late, families are finding out that Snapchat has also been connecting their children with its network of Snapchat drug dealers.
“Despite Snapchat’s claims of protecting its users, it continues to allow children under the age of 18 to download and open multiple accounts without their parents’ knowledge and consent, while also allowing the ‘Snapchat Drug Cartel’ to operate with impunity,” Bergman added.
SMVLC filed the lawsuits on behalf of the families of Juan Jiménez Trujillo, 16, North Fort Myers, Fla.; Lauren Lujan, 18, Centennial, Colo.; Cole Brown, 18, Lincoln, Calif.; Michael Leonardi, 19, Del Mar, Calif.; Dylan Moore, 19, Coatesville, Pa.; Moses “Malik” Majekodunmi, 19, Broomfield, Colo.; Kevin Andrew Hutchings, 20, Cartersville, Ga.; Jaylen Penix, 21, Tacoma, Wash.; and Allie Higdon, 22, Lake Charlies, La.
In total, SMVLC represents 35 families across 15 states with pending lawsuits against Snap Inc. relating to fentanyl poisoning claims.
Juan Jiménez Trujillo, 16, North Fort Myers, Fla.
Juan was a funny, outgoing and fiercely intelligent young man who dreamt of attending business school. His mother, Diana, bought Juan his first cellphone when he was 12 so she could reach him in an emergency.
Shortly afterwards, and without his mother’s consent, Juan opened his first Snapchat account. Each time his mother discovered an account and made him close it, he simply opened new accounts.
Eventually, Snapchat’s algorithm connected Juan to marijuana themed content leading him to want to try the drug.
Juan was introduced to a drug dealer on Snapchat who, on February 22, 2021, offered to
deliver candy with marijuana to a parking lot near his home. Juan didn’t have a car and was only able to buy the marijuana if he could find a dealer who was willing to deliver.
Juan walked to a nearby park where he met the Snapchat drug dealer and purchased what he believed to be a marijuana edible candy. The entire transaction took less than two minutes.
That evening, before heading to his room, he left his cell phone in a common area as he did every night and closed his door.
The next morning, Diana went to wake up her son only to find him lifeless in his bed. He still had the school computer open on his chest as he had started his homework after taking the candy which contained lethal doses of Fentanyl, ketamine and cocaine. Juan died on February 23, 2021.
Snapchat Fentanyl Lawsuits – March 2023
Lauren was a happy child, who loved animals and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. She had a gift for finding beauty in everything and would often text her mom, Patti, when they were not together and tell her to look up into the sky because it was a beautiful night.
She was 13 when she received her first phone and immediately downloaded Snapchat without her parents Patti and John’s consent.
By ninth grade, Lauren had developed an addiction to Snapchat and became obsessed with “Streaks” to the point where she would become frantic if her mother tried to take her phone away before she completed her “Streaks” for the day.
Lauren started to suffer from stomach issues and chronic pain from loose ligaments and was excited to turn 18 so she could finally obtain a medical marijuana prescription to help manage the pain.
On March 29, 2020, Lauren was on spring break and staying at her father’s house. She left for a couple of hours, which is when her parents believe she met up with the Snapchat drug dealer who sold her counterfeit Percocet.
When she returned, she shouted to her dad as she passed by, “I’m home. I love you. Goodnight.” John believed his daughter was safe, at home, hanging out with friends.
The next morning one of Lauren’s friends ran into her father’s room and told him that Lauren was not breathing. John raced to her room, called 9-1-1, and tried to resuscitate her. The first responders took her to the emergency room where doctors tried to save her life but ultimately, Lauren passed away from Fentanyl poisoning
Cole Brown, 18, Lincoln, Calif.
Cole was a happy and active child who did well in school and enjoyed riding his
bike around his neighborhood with friends. He was 12 when he received his first smart phone and began using Snapchat without his mother, Rebekah’s, permission. She wasn’t overly concerned about him using Snapchat when she found out he had downloaded the social media app several months later because she thought it was a fun and safe for kids.
As time passed, Snapchat began exposing Cole to drug related content and connecting him with drug dealers.
On August 31, 2021, Cole communicated with at least two Snapchat drug dealers, and purchased what he believed to be Percocet, but contained a lethal dose of Fentanyl. He was found dead on September 2 in a hotel room located in Rocklin, Calif.
The detectives told Cole’s mother that Snap had been uncooperative with them in the past and does not provide them with the information they need to find and convict these Snapchat drug dealers; and that at least some of the evidence they would need to pursue Cole’s killers would no longer exist because of how Snap designs its product.
After Cole’s death, he was still receiving calls, notifications, and communications on Snapchat from Snapchat drug dealers, and police found enough information in his device to know that Snapchat drug dealers were sending him drug menus and other advertising of illegal drugs via the Snapchat.
Snapchat Fentanyl Lawsuits – March 2023
Michael Leonardi, 19, Del Mar, Calif.
Michael enjoyed food, cooking, conversation, history and social justice issues. He was a musician and guitar player who also liked playing sports.
His parents, Ramona and Mark, bought him his first cell phone when he was 11 so they could stay in touch with their son. Michael opened his first Snapchat account when he was in seventh grade and did so without his parents’ consent.
In February of 2020, Michael was attending community college in Del Marwhere he was studying before hoping to transfer to UC Santa Barbara to study environmental studies. He had also recently started working for a social media marketing company and shared a house with his friends.
On February 24, Michael purchased what he believed to be two Percocet pills from a drug dealer he met on Snapchat. The Snapchat drug dealer delivered the Percocet, one of which was laced with lethal doses of Fentanyl, to Michael and his roommate at their apartment. Michael took the pill containing lethal doses of fentanyl, while his roommate survived.
The police arrested the Snapchat drug dealer, who was sentenced to one year for Michael’s death – but ultimately served only three months.
Dylan Moore, 19, Coatesville, Pa.
Dylan was a kind and easy-going child who loved soccer, was an excellent student and would give his mother a kiss when she dropped him off at school.
He received his first cell phone when he was 13 so that his parents, Sarah and Kyle, could reach him anytime. He opened his first Snapchat account without their knowledge or consent.
On the evening of May 13, 2022, Sarah tried to talk to her son about the issues he was having. He told her that he had taken a prescription medication, and to not start with him – but that they could talk later. Sarah did not push the issue because she knew that he was safe at home. She believed she would have time to talk with him the next day, after she got home from work, so she kissed her son goodnight and went to bed.
The next morning Sarah got up and began getting ready for work. She never left the house without giving her son a hug and kiss goodbye, so went to his room only to find him in his bed and lying on his stomach. When Sarah turned him over, he was rigid, cold and his face was blue and purple.
It turns out that the Percocet took was laced with enough Fentanyl to kill several grown men. Despite only taking half a pill, Dylan was gone.
Moses “Malik” Majekodunmi, 19, Broomfield, Colo.
Malik was an athletic, outgoing young man who loved video games and received football scholarship offers from several top colleges. He dreamt of being an engineer.
Malik was 16 when he received his first cell phone and opened his Snapchat account without the consent of his parents Olusesi Majekodunmi and Rose Smoak.
They could see that Malik was becoming addicted to social media, and when they tried to take away his phone, he would become angry and belligerent. He would slam doors and take away his mother’s phone and the keys to her car.
On December 18, 2022, Malik had a job interview with at an Amazon distribution center, so Rose called him a Lyft to take him to his dad’s house after the interview.
Rose spoke with her son the following day and learned that Malik had gotten the job.
Snapchat Fentanyl Lawsuits – March 2023
That afternoon, when his father couldn’t find Malik in the house, he called his son’s cell phone. He heard the phone ringing in the bathroom and went to check on Malik. He found his son slumped over in the bathroom and not breathing. Olusesi immediately called 9-1-1, then he called Rose to ask her to come over to the house now. By the time she arrived, the paramedics had already stopped CPR on her son. They administered three doses of Narcan without success.
A few days before his death, Malik had met with one of the drug dealers Snapchat connected him with and purchased what he believed to be Percocet. The pills turned out to be laced with deadly amounts of Fentanyl.
Kevin Andrew Hutchings, 20, Cartersville, Ga.
Andrew was a sweet, funny, and incredibly smart child. He excelled at school,graduated with honors and planned to become an epidemiologist. He loved gaming, and on days he did not have school or work, he would stay up until all night playing video games with his friends.
Andrew got his first cell phone when he was a freshman in high school and began using Snapchat without his parents’ consent.
On Sunday, April 24, 2022, Andrew went to dinner with his father and mother, Jackie and Terry, went grocery shopping and then came home. Andrew helped unload the groceries, told his dad he was going to the gym, and returned home about an hour later. Jackie asked him if the gym was crowded and Andrew responded, “kind of.” Jackie believed his son was going to his room to play video games with friends, and that he was in the safest place in the world. But instead, this was the last conversation Jackie and Andrew would ever have.
Jackie arrived home from work the next morning of Monday, watched some TV, went to the gym, ran errands and was home by 1:00 p.m. At 4:45 p.m.he stopped by Andrew’s room to say “Bye, see you in the morning” before leaving for work but Andrew did not respond.
Jackie went into Andrew’s room and noticed his son was an odd color and when he reached out, Andrew was cold and stiff.
Jackie called 9-1-1 but the paramedics could not help because Andrew was already gone.
Jackie and Terry checked Andrew’s Snapchat and learned that Andrew had purchased what he believed to be an Oxycodone from a local Snapchat drug dealer. They also re-checked his room and found a bag with two pills, which police later confirmed to be the Oxycodone Andrew purchased on Snapchat. Specifically, Andrew had purchased three pills, took one, and that one pill contained enough Fentanyl and tranquilizer to kill him.
A police investigation showed that this was the first, last and only time Andrew attempted to purchase a prescription narcotic.
Jaylen Penix, 21, Tacoma, Wash.
Jaylen was kind, artistic, soulful and enjoyed spending time outdoors. He was the kid who made friends with everyone and checked in on other kids who were lonely or sad. He was a talented musician and dreamed of someday creating and sharing his music for the world to enjoy. He created music under the name Black Santana, recorded an entire album and posted it for the world to enjoy on Sound Cloud.
Snapchat Fentanyl Lawsuits – March 2023
Jaylen received his first smart phone when he was in eighth grade. He wasn’t interested in spending time on electronic devices, but all of that changed once he began using social media. His mother, Jasmine, thinks he opened his first Snapchat account when he was a freshman in high school, without her consent.
In March of 2016, Jaylen suffered a traumatic brain injury when he fractured his skull in five places while skateboarding. The injuries were painful, and Jaylen began suffering from severe headaches, loss of hearing in his left ear and balance issues.
Jaylen became addicted to Percocet when he was in the hospital when he was prescribed pain killers for his injury.
After high school, Jaylen decided to focus on his music and was working for Milgard in Tacoma, Wash.
Then, on July 26, 2020, Jaylen and a friend were connected to and purchased what they believed to be prescription narcotics from a Snapchat drug dealer who delivered two Percocet to their front door.
The Percocet was 100 percent Fentanyl, with enough in it to kill several grown men.
Allie Higdon, 22, Lake Charlies, La.
Allie loved dancing, playing instruments and excelled at school.
She received her first phone when she was 12 and opened her first Snapchat account shortly afterwards without her parent’s consent.
When Allie was 16, she began complaining of nerve issues in her hands.
Her hands would cramp and cause significant pain. Her parents took her for test after test, but no one could figure out what was wrong.
On April 8, 2022, Allie and her father had a disagreement, so Allie grabbed some clothes and had a friend pick her up. Allie had recently had a tooth extracted and was still in considerable discomfort, in addition to the regular nerve pain in her hands.
Allie reached out to a Snapchat drug dealer and bought Xanax which turned out to be laced with a lethalamount of Fentanyl. She went to the Snapchat drug dealer’s house to pick up and take the Xanax.
As Allie struggled to breathe, the Snapchat drug dealer began clearing his home of drugs and paraphernalia. He waited more than eight hours to call for help and, by that time, it was far too late. Allie was gone.
About the Social Media Victims Law Center
The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), socialmediavictims.org, was founded in 2021 to hold social media companies legally accountable for the harm they inflict on vulnerable users. SMVLC seeks to apply principles of product liability to force social media companies to elevate consumer safety to the forefront of its economic analysis and design safer platforms to protect users from foreseeable harm.
About Matthew P. Bergman
Matthew P. Bergman is an attorney, law professor, philanthropist and community activist who has recovered over $1 billion on behalf of his clients. He is the founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center and Bergman Draper Oslund Udo law firm; a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School; and serves on the board of directors of nonprofit institutions in higher education, national security, civil rights, worker protection and the arts.
If your child or young family member has suffered from serious depression, chronic eating disorder, hospitalization, sexual exploitation, self-harm, or suicide as a result of their social media use, speak to us today for a no-cost legal consultation.