Victims Of Car Crash Sue Apple For Not Preventing Distracted Driver From Hitting Their Vehicle

from the asking-the-court-to-help-pass-the-buck dept

A lawsuit has been filed against Apple, alleging that it did nothing to prevent the driver of a car from doing something a driver of a car shouldn’t have been doing.

On Christmas Eve 2014, a driver distracted by using FaceTime on his iPhone crashed into another vehicle on I-35 in Texas, killing the 5-year-old girl in the back seat. The child’s parents and her older sister — all also injured in the collision — are now suing Apple, alleging that the company was negligent in not deploying safeguards that would restrict the use of FaceTime while driving.

The filing [PDF] is long, suggesting there’s not much to this legal argument that seeks to shift all the responsibility for the accident to Apple. Pages and pages of quoted articles and studies make it clear distracted driving can cause accidents and that people of certain ages are possibly more prone to suffer from “addiction to smartphones.” It’s all pretty much padding for the central argument, which is that Apple possesses a driving-related patent that it hasn’t put to use yet.

Defendant APPLE, INC. has had the technology to prevent these events, and the Modisette’s injuries specifically, since at least December 12, 2008, when it filed an application with the U.S Patent Office for a “driver handheld computing device lock-out.” Defendant APPLE, 2008 patent application reveals that Apple expressly knew and/or should have known of the risks to human life and safety associated with, and created by, the intended or reasonably foreseeable use and misuse of certain functions available on the iPhone, such as texting, while operating a motor vehicle.

Apple may have recognized the danger, but it’s under no legal obligation to protect phone users from their own actions or the actions of others. Patent applications are filed all the time by companies like Apple, but only a small percentage of those ever make their way to market. Apple may institute some sort of driver lockout feature in the future, but not having done so at this point is not a failure on Apple’s part. In fact, the patent in question wasn’t granted until 2014, so it’s not as though Apple’s been sitting on it for nearly a decade.

But yet the family’s lawyer persists with this argument, which is as flawed as any that seeks to eradicate personal responsibility.

The APPLE, INC. iPhone 6 Plus that was a substantial factor in causing or contributing to cause this accident was defective because, at the time of the collision in question, no universal solution or “built-in” method of disabling the sending or receiving of text messages, emails, video calling services, or other notifications while driving had been implemented by APPLE, INC. for the iPhone. Despite both the technology since 2008 and a patent on that technology so it could exploit its patent without competition for 20 years, Defendant APPLE, INC. has consistently and continuously failed to implement a safer, alternative design that would lock-out and prevent use of “FaceTime” while driving…

Following this logic, the family could sue the manufacturer of the vehicle that hit theirs, claiming it didn’t do enough to prevent drivers from operating the vehicle unsafely. After all, it was the high-speed vehicle that caused the damage and death, not the iPhone possessed by the driver.

A patent granted in 2012 details an in-car dock for cell phones that won’t allow the vehicle to turn on until the device is docked and in hands-free mode. If the phone is removed past the point of ignition, the vehicle’s hazard lights turn on (and the removal is recorded to the vehicle’s internal memory) until the phone is replaced. This won’t stop distracted driving, and the responsibility still lies with the driver (via the black box recording of the phone’s removal from the dock). But it does show vehicle manufacturers could do more to prevent distracted driving — not that this makes that argument any more credible.

Apple has dealt with this sort of lawsuit before — one that points to the same unused distracted driving patent. Apple’s response to that filing pointed to the sort of lawsuits that would result if the court accepted the plaintff’s blame-shifting argument:

Lawsuits against: fast food or any number of drive-thru restaurants for accidents caused when a driver gets distracted with eating while driving; hot beverage providers, or any business offering warm drinks to go, for accidents caused when a driver gets distracted with spillage or drinking while driving; cosmetic manufacturers for accidents caused when a driver gets distracted when applying makeup while driving; and similar liability may apply to providers of maps, books, car stereos — virtually any object in a car that is capable of causing distraction.

As for the legal theory that operating a cell phone while driving is inherently dangerous (and that manufacturers should bear the burden for distracted driving accidents), Apple quoted from an earlier dismissed lawsuit filed against another cell phone manufacturer.

The purchase and use of a cellular phone or cellular service are not inherently dangerous acts, nor is it foreseeable that the sale and subsequent use of such a phone would cause an accident. Even if using a cell phone while driving is foreseeable, it is not necessarily foreseeable that it will cause a collision or unreasonably endanger a particular class of persons . . . [i]t is not reasonable to anticipate injury every time a person uses a cellular phone while driving.

Expect both of these arguments to be copy-pasted into Apple’s upcoming motion to dismiss.

Much like the lawsuits seeking to hold social media platforms responsible for acts of terrorism, the lawsuit against Apple makes ridiculous logic leaps in its attempt to find someone other than the perpetrator culpable for the tragedy underlying the case. This lawsuit won’t — or at least shouldn’t — make its way past a motion to dismiss. While the circumstances prompting the lawsuit are unimaginably horrific, the simple fact is that Apple is in no way responsible for a driver’s decision to fire up FaceTime while traveling 65 miles per hour in traffic.

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Comments on “Victims Of Car Crash Sue Apple For Not Preventing Distracted Driver From Hitting Their Vehicle”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Why not sue the person the man was calling too for not stopping him when they knew he was driving? Or the local cell tower for providing the bandwidth for him to facetime?

It is a horrible event to have a loved one killed. but this baseless grab is not helping. It is already illegal in many states to use your phone. So what do they expect to happen from this lawsuit?

kog999 says:

“no universal solution or “built-in” method of disabling the sending or receiving of text messages, emails, video calling services, or other notifications while driving had been implemented by APPLE, INC. for the iPhone.”

They have had a universal solution built-in for years. its called airplane mode. it will prevent you from receiving any of those items. All the user has to do it enable it. they even conveniently placed it on the home control panel screen.

Ninja (profile) says:

“A patent granted in 2012 details an in-car dock for cell phones that won’t allow the vehicle to turn on until the device is docked and in hands-free mode.”

What if you don’t have a phone? What if is not an Apple? What if you have at least TWO phones at all times (my case till they started releasing decent dual chip phones).

This lawyer is disgusting. He/she just want to extract money from the family and attempt a nab at Apple (hope for a miracle). If the family also know this isn’t going anywhere then you can add shameless exploitation of the death of a kid to extract money from big company in the soup. But alas, let us assume the lawyer is clueless as well and add to the score of ignorance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And what about a case where it’s a passenger using the phone? How would the vehicle distinguish between them? It’s entirely possible that Apple got the patent for this and then realized it’s something that’d be incredibly impractical to implement.

Bad lawsuit that blames device manufacturers instead of focusing on irresponsible behavior of drivers. Having seen people reading books as well as newspapers while driving of all insane things, I’m not about to hold a book or newspaper publisher responsible for what an idiotic driver does with their material.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

And another thing

Also, all of the “technology” (and I use the word very loosely) created to restrict usage of texting/facetime/whatever while driving inevitably rely on the speed of the device to ascertain that the user is driving. So now, how do you determine if the user is driving, and shouldn’t be texting/facetime/whatever, or if the user is a passenger, and shouldn’t be similarly restricted?

The whole thing is stupid. Personal responsibility is the key, and this is just another Steve Dallas lawsuit that will fail.

sharp as a marble says:

Ryobi lost a multi million dollar lawsuit because someone who had never used a table saw removed all off the safety items from a $150 saw and then hurt himself. He won because they did not have the $1000 flesh detection system that is in a competitors saw. If this goes to trial the american public is stupid and people who end up on juries seem to be even stupider and as such apple will lose.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

More likely scenario: Since the phone is looking through its cameras to attempt to determine whether the driver or a passenger is holding the phone (since disallowing a passenger from using the phone would be silly and pointless), the driver holds the phone in a weird way that doesn’t allow the phone to detect that he’s driving – but which is also very awkward for the driver and distracts them ten times as much as using the phone normally.

You already see this in places that ban using a phone while driving. The drivers try to keep the phone below window level, which makes them harder to detect, but which also makes it harder for the driver to look at the road.

In any case, suing Apple for this is ridiculous. This isn’t something that is industry standard. It’s something that nobody is currently doing, and the lawyers likely have no idea whether it is feasible. The intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, in particular, is just ridiculously ridiculous – it’s like they don’t know what “intentional” means. Do they think Apple had a meeting where someone said “I don’t like this family – let’s not implement this lockout feature on our phones, so someone will use the phone while driving, get distracted, crash their car into their car, and the results will destroy them emotionally”?

Anonmylous says:

Ridiculous example


Officer pulls over a speeder late at night on a busy highway. Standard procedure he leaves the lights on his squad car running for “safety”. Drunk driver sees lights and is distracted by them, turns towards them and slams into police car, killing any of the three parties.

Family of dead person(s) sues… police car lightbar manufacturer for failing to implement a system to turn the lights off if the car is parked since its a well established fact drunk drivers are attracted to flashing bright lights.

This is just as stupid. The person who chose to drink before driving is at fault, not the lightbar manufacturer or the officer who left the lights running. The person who chose to use his cell phone while driving is at fault here, not the call phone manufacturer.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Why Stop There?

“Following this logic, the family could sue the manufacturer of the vehicle that hit theirs, claiming it didn’t do enough to prevent drivers from operating the vehicle unsafely.”

Following this logic, the family could sue a completely unrelated car company, like Skoda. It is clear that Skoda did not do enough to prevent this accident. They did nothing! Negligence!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

No one is responsible for their actions, the responsible party is the one with the deepest pockets.

Are they suing themselves for having decided to go for a drive?
If not for them deciding to be on the road the event wouldn’t have happened.
If not for the state making the road, they couldn’t have been there.
If not for the car maker, they wouldn’t have had a vehicle to get hit.
If not for the refined oil that car wouldn’t have run.
If not for the transport of the oil for refining, the car wouldn’t have been on the road.
If not for the drilling of oil, the car wouldn’t have been on the road.
If not for the dinosaurs dying and turning into oil, the car wouldn’t have been on the road.
If not for God or the big bang creating the planet, the car wouldn’t be on the road.

I feel bad that they lost a child, but greed has outpaced grief here. They want the deepest pocket to pay up or at least settle, even though the deepest pocket did not make the decisions that caused the tragedy.

We can not keep demanding that corporations take the blame for stupid humans.
Make McDonalds stop offering toys, because it makes my kids fat!
I can’t be a parent & say no.
Make Amazon & Google change their voice assistants to demand my child say please and thank you to the technology.
I can’t be a parent & teach them to do it or take it away if they refuse.
Make Apple keep people from doing stupid shit behind the wheel.
We can’t bother to demand more accountability from people.
Make Tide change their pods packaging!
I can’t watch my child & keep harmful things away from them.

We need to stop demanding that everyone else be accountable.
You text you drive, enjoy your jail time.
We have no problem throwing a kid with 3 joints into jail for long periods, yet we let drunk drivers stay out and get 15 DUIs before we decide maybe jail is the answer.

If these things are so horrible, why do corporations have to fix it when we have leaders who can pass laws & punishments that should suit the crime. We can not cover the whole planet in Nerf, nothing is 100% foolproof. We can only try to change our own behaviors.

Anonymous Coward says:

A major problem with the reasoning behind this suite is that the phone was the reason for the driver being distracted, while the problem is a driver that allowed his attention to wander away from the road, if it had not been the phone, it could have been the radio, the music player, or a passenger that gained his attention, and hands.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

In fact, the patent in question wasn’t granted until 2014

Aw. Awwww. When a patent is granted is irrelevant. Not being patented does not stop anyone from innovation or implementation. (Or is it one of those mere suggestion "a method for" patents with no actual … anything to it?) This is just a bad argument and contrary to what many around here would see as a reasonable view of patents. Although, for a lawyer… Not that in i would defend this foolish lawsuit in any way.

But it does show vehicle manufacturers could do more to prevent distracted driving.

Yeap, a congested evening rush hour highway in the dark of winter, thousands of cars running with hazard lights on. I can picture it now. Much less distracting.

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