New Yorkers are used to seeing things on a daily basis that residents of other cities don’t witness in a lifetime. Some of the country’s greatest museums, such as the Met and the MoMA, are so taken for granted that they blend into the background, along with some of the world’s most famous monuments, such as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Unique people like the Naked Cowboy roam Times Square, and there’s unique public art such as the small airplane which was suspended above the sidewalk at the edge of Central Park for a few weeks in 2012.
But something unprecedented happened a few weeks ago, just down the block from where that airplane had hung: Crowds of New Yorkers flooded into Central Park, recklessly abandoning cars in the street and stopping traffic in a scene some have compared to a disaster movie. The reason? They were all playing “Pokémon Go.”
A Genuine Cultural Phenomenon
“Pokémon Go,” an augmented reality game which overlays game maps and components onto the real world as viewed through a player’s smartphone camera, was only just made available to the public in early July but has already shattered records for app downloads. The game, in which players try to catch and train cartoon monsters, already has more than 75 million players—and it’s only been released in a handful of countries.
Play Carries Risks
From the moment it was launched, some have worried that the nature of “Pokémon Go”—an arguably addictive game that takes the extra step of mixing its world with the real one—carried enormous potential for risk. Public safety officials warned players to be responsible, to not lose track of where they were, and especially to not play the game in risky situations—the most dangerous of which is while behind the wheel.
It took only a few days for the predictions of accidents and injuries to come true. The sillier incidents reported in New York include a Brooklyn man who fell into a pond in Prospect Park and the upstate resident who stumbled into a mud pit while playing late at night and had to be rescued. Another Brooklyn man received a ticket for trespassing in a closed park.
It’s easy to laugh at these incidents, but others have placed players in danger. A Long Island man fell from his skateboard and suffered minor injuries while playing. Numerous reports have circulated of players being robbed, including a Long Island teen held up at gunpoint. The game has directed players to potentially unsafe or inappropriate locations, such as areas with known high levels of drug crime and the entrance to Rikers Island.
Distracted Driving Fears Escalate
The biggest worry has been about what could happen if people play “Pokémon Go” while driving. Distracted driving is already a huge problem: It’s now the number one cause of property damage and injury crashes in New York State. We were the first state to pass a law against phone and other mobile device use while driving, yet Manhattan alone saw more than 42,000 cell phone and texting tickets issued in 2014 (with a better than 91 percent conviction rate).
“Pokémon Go” and other games like it tempt players to drive while distracted, and some players do exactly that. An upstate New York man was the first driver known to have crashed while playing. Other wrecks have followed, but so far the drivers have received only minor injuries and no bystanders have been hurt (although a player in Pennsylvania was injured by a car while crossing a busy street, and a fourteen-year old in Minnesota was killed when he rode his bicycle into the street while playing the game).
With Great Gaming Comes Great Responsibility
“Pokémon Go” players could update a line from a fictional New Yorker—Spiderman—and commit to playing responsibly, for their own safety and that of others. At Greenstein & Milbauer, we’ve been handling distracted driving cases for years. We don’t want to see anyone injured simply because a game was played recklessly, but if it happens to you, our team of experienced personal injury lawyers will be ready to take your call. Call us today at 1-800-VICTIM2 (842-8462) or complete our online form at the bottom of this page to arrange a free consultation with one of our attorneys.