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Social Media Victims Law Center files suit against Snap, Inc. for facilitating the sale of deadly fentanyl-laced pills that resulted in eight deaths
The lawsuit alleges that Snap created dangerous dependencies for its minor users then designed, programmed and distributed inherently dangerous tools, aiding drug dealer activities on Snapchat
LOS ANGELES – January 4, 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 a lawsuit against Snap, Inc. on behalf of the families of eight teenagers and young adults across six states, all of whom died after taking fentanyl laced pills purchased from drug dealers connected to them by Snapchat. In each case, the teens and young adults believed that they were purchasing prescription medications like Percocet, Oxycodone, and Xanax; but instead, were sold pills containing lethal doses of fentanyl.
This suit is the fourth SMVLC has filed in less than three months alleging that Snapchat’s disappearing messages, “My Eyes Only”and “Snap Map” features, among others unique to Snapchat that encourage, enable, and facilitate illegal and deadly drug sales of counterfeit pills containing lethal doses of fentanyl to minors and young adults. 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. Snapchat also enables dealers to locate and access nearby minors and young adults, affirmatively connects them to these young clients and promises the posting and exchange of drug menus and other information that disappears–erasing all evidence of the crime.
“The Social Media Victims Law Center will continue to hold Snap, Inc. and its social media product Snapchat legally accountable for the sale of illicit drugs on its site and its features that allow drug dealers to operate without fear of facing justice for their crimes,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of SMVLC. “Snapchat needs to take immediate action to stop connecting drug dealers with minors and young adults who have no idea that they are playing Russian Roulette with their lives when unknowingly purchasing medications that are laced with deadly levels of fentanyl. It’s time for Snap to put an end to its Snapchat cartel.”
SMVLC filed the lawsuits on behalf of the families of Michael Stabile, 15, from Coure d’Alene, Idaho; Emily Taylor, 17, from Ottowa, Ill.; Ava Sorenson, 17, from Gilbert, Ariz.; Manuel “Manny” Navarro, 17, from Chino Hills, Calif.; Finale Jaeger, 18, from Scottsdale, Ariz.; Max Osterman, 18, from Thornton, Colo.; Cody Mehlos, 21, from Big Bear Lake, Calif.; and Ciara Gilliam, 22,from Des Moines, Iowa, who all died after taking fentanyl-laced pills sold by Snapchat drug dealers.
The lawsuit was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court on January 3, 2023.
Michael Stabile, 15, from Coure d’Alene, Idaho
Michael loved skateboarding, snowboarding, and spending as much time in the outdoors as possible. He had recently been promoted at his job and was doing well in school.
On May 10, 2021, Michael died from fentanyl poisoning after trying a pill he and his friend purchased, out of curiosity, from a drug dealer they met on Snapchat.
He and his friend had never purchased drugs before and believed that they were purchasing four Percocet. Instead, the pills provided via Snapchat and the dealer contained deadly doses of fentanyl.
Michael’s family performed CPR and paramedics tried to resuscitate him, but it was too late.
Emily Taylor, 17, from Ottawa, Ill.
Emily loved animals and wanted to be a nurse when she grew up. She was funny and outgoing and loved to dance.
In February of 2021, Emily was staying with her father in Michigan, when Snapchat connected her to a local Snapchat drug dealer, KashinQuae. Using Snapchat’s direct messaging and other product features, Emily purchased what she believed to be Percocet but, instead, received pills laced with fatal doses of fentanyl.
On February 28, 2021, Emily’s boyfriend picked her up in Michigan and drove with her back to Illinois, where she resided with her mother. They did not go back to her mother’s house right away, however; instead, on March 3, 2021, Emily took one of the fentanyl-laced pills. She became unconscious, was resuscitated by paramedics, but ultimately was taken off life support on March 5, 2021.
Days before her death, Emily and her mother were planning her high school graduation party.
Ava Sorenson, 17, from Gilbert, Ariz.
Ava was a happy kid, stubborn and headstrong, but always smiling and loyal and dedicated friend.
In October of 2022, Snapchat connected Ava to a Snapchat dealer who offered to sell her Oxycodone.
Late in the evening on Wednesday, October 12, 2022, Ava gave her mom a hug, told her she loved her and that she was excited for school the next day, then headed to bed. Ava’s alarm went off at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, but Ava was not turning it off, so her mother went to wake her up.
When her mother opened Ava’s door, she found her daughter on the bed, with the covers gone, and foam coming out of her mouth. She began chest compressions on her child while her husband called 9-1-1. The paramedics tried everything to resuscitate Ava, but nothing worked, and they were never able to get a rhythm.
On October 13, 2022, Ava died of fentanyl poisoning from drugs bought and sold through Snapchat.
Manuel “Manny” Navarro, 17, from Chino Hills, Calif.
Manny enjoyed playing video games and wanted to be a video game programmer when he grew up.
In May of 2021, Manny had surgery on his collar bone after a skateboarding accident, which resulted in significant pain and discomfort. He was then connected by Snapchat to a Snapchat dealer, via tools like Snap’s public profile and user location features, and the Snapchat dealer offered to sell him pain medication.
On or around June 1, 2021, Manny purchased what he believed to be a Percocet but that was, instead, a counterfeit Percocet containing deadly amounts of fentanyl. Manny died on June 1, 2021.
Finale Jaeger, 18, from Scottsdale, Ariz.
Finale was a bright, exciting, and colorful child, full of life and able to light up any room with her smile and laughter.
She was suffering from knee pain, which prevented her from doing gymnastics. There was a corrective surgery, but Finale had to wait until she was 18 – which she did.
At the end of October 2021, Finale had the procedure to fix her knee. Afterwards, she was in an unexpected amount of pain, such that she was transported back to the hospital for pain control and was released with a prescription for pain medication. But the pain persisted.
Snapchat then connected Finale to a Snapchat dealer, and she purchased what she believed to be a Percocet, but that was actually a pill laced with deadly amounts of fentanyl.
On December 7, 2021, Finale hugged her mother goodnight, and by morning she was gone. Finale died of fentanyl poisoning sometime between December 7 and December 8,2021, after taking a counterfeit Percocet purchased and sold through Snapchat.
Max Osterman, 18, from Thornton, Colo.
Max was a kind and intelligent person, who dreamt of working on Wall Street.
On February 3, 2021, Max died of fentanyl poisoning after taking a pill sold to him by Snapchat dealer, Sergio, which, he believed to be Percocet but contained lethal amounts of fentanyl instead.
Police provided Snap with a preservation notice on February 9, 2021, then served an Order for Production of Records on March 8, 2021. Instead of cooperating, Snap waited more than two months then required law enforcement to restart the process and re-serve, claiming that the use of “/” in the Order was ambiguous. A second Order was issued in November 2021, and it took Snap only a few days to respond; however, by that time, Snap’s delay already had contributed to loss of evidence and the decision to not pursue criminal charges against the Snapchat dealer.
Police reports from February of 2021 describe two other teen deaths in the same area via counterfeit pills, a 17-year-old boy and an 18-year-old boy, both of which also involved Snapchat.
Moreover, this particular Snapchat dealer had been connected in 2020 to the overdose of a 17-year-old girl (who survived) and, as of July 7, 2022, he appeared to still have aSnapchat account.
Cody Mehlos, 21, from Big Bear Lake, Calif.
Cody was outgoing, enjoyed helping others, and dreamt of being an entrepreneur.
On January 1, 2021, Cody communicated with a dealer he met on Snapchat. Cody is believed to have purchased four pills from the Snapchat dealer, which he thought were Percocet.
On January 2, 2021, Cody’s girlfriend called his mother to report that he had never shown up at work. Cody’s mother checked his apartment and found her son’s lifeless body on his bed. The paramedics confirmed that there was nothing they could do, as it was too late to try to bring him back. Police also found a bag in Cody’s room containing three M-30 pills. Cody had taken a pill purchased from the Snapchat dealer, pressed to look like Percocet, but containing lethal doses of fentanyl.
Ciara Gilliam, 22, from Des Moines, Iowa
Ciara was a happy and outgoing person. She was close with her parents and able to make friends everywhere she went.
In August of 2021, Snapchat connected Ciara to a Snapchat dealer. This is someone Ciara did not know, and with whom she would not have connected but for Snapchat and its various product features and tools.
On August 23, 2022, Ciara’s parents received a message from her boyfriend asking if they had heard from her. They had not yet heard from her that day, so Ciara’s parents tried calling but their calls went straight to voicemail, so they called Ciara’s grandmother and her husband and asked them to check on her.
Ciara didn’t answer her door, but her bedroom window was known for not locking, so her grandparents tried the window, which is when they found Ciara dead on her bedroom floor.
Ciara had talked with her mother on August 22, 2022, via Facetime, then talked with a friend until almost 10:00 p.m. Then, because she couldn’t sleep, she took a single pill from a dealer to whom Snapchat connected her believing it to be a Xanax; but it was laced with lethal doses of fentanyl instead.
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.