Imagine driving down the road and you see someone video chatting while they are behind the wheel. A responsible driver will do everything they can to stay away from that driver and avoid becoming a distracted driving fatality. What if it was too late and you got involved in an accident with the distracted driver? Who should be held responsible for the accident? The distracted driver or the phone company?
What would happen if a company had shirked its corporate responsibility and helped to create distracted drivers?
According to a lawsuit filed in the state of Texas, a couple is suing Apple because the FaceTime app available on the Apple iPhone contributed to an accident that killed their five-year-old daughter. What is interesting about this case is even though the 20-year-old driver has admitted to driving distracted, he is not being named in the lawsuit.
Distracted Driving Laws Vary In Each State
Most states have enabled distracted driving laws that prohibit using hand-held devices while driving. Unfortunately, Texas is one of those states that lags behind in implementing distracted driver laws. As of January 2017, there are no state-wide laws that punish drivers for using their smartphones or tablets while driving. Certain cities have specific distracted driving laws that can bring fines of up to $500, but there is nothing on the Texas state law books that punishes people for distracted driving.
The Events That Led To The FaceTime Lawsuit
James and Bethany Modisette were driving on a busy Texas road on Christmas Eve 2014 when they slowed due to the pace of traffic in front of them. Not long after James had slowed the family car, a 20-year-old driver hit the back of the Modisette’s car while doing 65 miles per hour. The driver admitted to being distracted by the Apple iPhone FaceTime app, which was still hosting a call on the driver’s phone when the police arrived.
As a result of the accident, five-year-old Moriah Modisette was seriously injured and eventually died in the hospital a few days later. While the driver can most certainly be charged for the accident, there is no law in that part of Texas that would recognize the role that distracted driving played in what happened. However, the Modisettes would soon bring the facts of their case to light in a lawsuit against Apple.
The FaceTime Feature That Never Was
Software and technology developers often create ideas and then get patents for those ideas without actually ever implementing them. The reason for this is that in case a competitor tries to implement an idea that was already developed, the developing company can claim patent infringement.
In 2008, Apple was granted a patent for an iPhone feature that would lock out such apps as FaceTime when the iPhone determined that the user was in a moving vehicle. The problem is that Apple never actually implemented the feature, and the Modisettes insist that the lack of that feature is what killed their daughter.
Reviewing This Lawsuit From Different Angles
In their lawsuit, the Modisettes say that it was the lack of a lockout feature on the iPhone that caused the 20-year-old driver to slam into the back of their car and kill their daughter. The Modisettes claim that Apple neglected their corporate responsibility and never implemented a safety feature that was inexpensive to add, and could save lives.
There are two interesting aspects to this lawsuit. The first is that the Modisettes are in no way seeking any kind of compensation from the driver of the car. The other interesting fact is that this lawsuit is seeking financial restitution, but it is not demanding that Apple should have the safety feature installed.
By not demanding that Apple installs the safety feature on all future iPhones, the Modisettes have invited Apple to claim that the lawsuit is only being filed for financial compensation. The attorneys for the Modisettes claim in the lawsuit that the installation of the safety feature would be a simple process, but they have not indicated how they have come to this conclusion. If Apple can prove the process is costly, then this could damage the lawsuit.
On the surface, it does look like Apple is responsible for not implementing a feature that the company developed for a problem it knew existed. But is Apple ultimately responsible for the irresponsible driving habits of a 20-year-old from Texas? A case like this highlights some of the tricky instances that require excellent legal representation when it comes to personal injury lawsuits.