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Premises Liability

TikTok Challenge Deaths: Who Is Liable?

Opening Tiktok app on a smartphone

Various liability issues are raised by the ubiquitous “TikTok” challenges. Families who have had children or other family members killed or maimed in TikTok challenges may look to hold someone legally responsible for their loved one’s injury. TikTok challenges can be dangerous, and scores of people are seriously injured each year when they participate.

The Skullbreaker Challenge Has Sent Numerous People to the Hospital

One recent TikTok challenge underscored the dangers of this popular platform. This particular prank was called the “Skullbreaker Challenge,” and it involved two people cutting the legs out from under someone who was jumping in the air. This stunt went viral. In some cases, the name of the challenge became the harm that victims suffered when they fell backwards and landed on their heads. In one case, two New Jersey teens faced criminal charges when they performed this challenge at school and gave a classmate a concussion.

TikTok Challenges: Children at Risk

This is just one example of how TikTok challenges put users and the people around them in danger. Even the names of these challenges reveal the sheer foolishness of these viral videos and the activities that they encourage. Dangerous challenges include encouraging people to lick items in public during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and urging followers to drink as much Benadryl as possible to hallucinate. Children are impressionable, and the content on TikTok heavily influences them. Parents can only do so much to protect their children short of forcing them off the app.

Suing Someone Else for TikTok Injuries

TikTok challenge injuries raise legal issues of whether someone else could be legally responsible for the injuries and who the proper defendant is to sue. There are several possible defendants when someone is injured in a TikTok challenge, but these types of lawsuits may not be easy.

In the Skullbreaker Challenge, the first people to file a potential lawsuit against would be the person who committed the act of kicking out the legs from under a jumping person. This is battery, and that act could be the subject of a civil lawsuit when someone is injured.

However, in many cases, the person who commits the act is a child or teenager. Minors are not legally responsible for the personal injuries they cause. In most cases, the parents of the person who causes the injury must pay for the damages that their child causes. Illinois has a parental responsibility law where parents are responsible if their children commit intentional and malicious acts. However, damages under this law are limited, and victims usually can only recover things like medical bills. Pain and suffering are not permitted damages under this law.

Therefore, parents of injured children may want to look for another entity to hold liable. Another party that may be able to be sued is the child’s school if the incident happened on the grounds during the school day. A school has the legal obligation to supervise children and keep them from harm. They are not legally responsible for every accident that occurs at school, but they must take acts to protect children when they know about risks.

TikTok Has Legal Protection for Content Posted on its Forum

Those who are looking to sue TikTok for the content that gave children dangerous ideas cannot do so. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects platforms for the content that is published online. Services such as YouTube and TikTok cannot be sued for videos that appear on their platforms, regardless of the content. While the platforms have the ability to police their own content, they cannot be sued for what is published. Even though some have been trying to change this, Section 230 is still the law of the land.

Further, with social media challenges like these, it would be difficult to sue the influencer who first posted the challenge. Many TikTok posters are not directly inviting others to perform these dangerous acts. Instead, Tiktok users make their own decisions to do what is depicted in these viral videos. Injured victims cannot blame anyone who posts about the challenge. In addition, it would be hard to pinpoint who started the challenge and would be to blame.

When TikTok challenges involve dangerous products, the manufacturer of the product may be partially liable for the injuries the challenges cause. Under strict liability laws, if the product was unreasonably dangerous and safer alternatives were rejected, the manufacturer could be held responsible for injuries.

This is still an evolving area of the law, but parents’ options for lawsuits may be limited. Adults who have been injured may have even fewer options, especially if someone else did not directly hurt them.

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