California Man Brings Class Action Lawsuit Against Apple For Not Preventing Drivers From Doing Stupid Stuff

from the white-knight-and-his-windmills dept

There’s lots of “me too” litigation flying right now. Multiple plaintiffs have advanced the theory that because terrorists kill people and terrorists use social media platforms to communicate, it somehow follows that social media platforms are at least partially responsible for terrorists killing people.

Bed legislation tends to follow tragedies. So does bad litigation. In the aftermath of a car accident that killed a five-year-old girl, a lawsuit was brought against Apple for supposed negligence — solely because it has yet to implement a patented lockout mechanism that might have prevented the driver who killed the plaintiff’s daughter from using Facetime while driving.

The key is “might have.” The key is also a little understood aspect of intellectual property like patents. Just because a patent is acquired does not mean the company obtaining it has the means to put it to use. Nor does it indicate it ever plans to put the patent to use. It’s an exclusionary process meant to keep others locked out for a certain period of time more than a leading indicator of any company’s immediate plans for the future.

Partly due to a fundamental misunderstanding of patent filings, a “me too” class action lawsuit has lobbed into a California court, piggybacking off the negligence lawsuit filed late last year.

A California man has levied a class action lawsuit against Apple in Los Angeles Superior Court over the company’s decision to not implement technology that would prevent drivers from texting while behind the wheel.

Julio Ceja, who was rear-ended by a driver allegedly distracted while using her iPhone, isn’t seeking monetary damages (save for legal fees). Instead, Ceja hopes Apple will be forced to halt sales of its iPhones in The Golden State until a lock-out mechanism preventing people from using their smartphones while driving is implemented.

The lawsuit [PDF] proposes a potential class of EVERY PERSON IN CALIFORNIA, thanks to the popularity of cell phones and the increase in distracted driving accidents.

Of course, this legal effort attempts to shift the burden of personal responsibility to cell phone manufacturers. Ceja’s concerns about distracted driving may be justified, but his desire to see the government force Apple to implement an as-yet-unused patent by blocking phone sales is thoroughly misguided. The lawsuit only targets Apple and only because Apple is in possession of this granted patent. The state’s millions of Android (and tens of Windows phone) users would presumably be free to rear end Ceja and others while distracted by their non-iPhones.

Chances are this will be tossed before it advances too far, with the court pointing out that Apple is free to handle its unused patents however it feels and that any solution lies with the state’s legislature, rather than the court. Of course, this will result in misguided legislation that targets cell phones specifically while ignoring all sorts of distracted driving that has nothing to do with electronic devices. But this solution makes a hell of a lot more sense than a court-ordered injunction that allows distracted drivers to offload their culpability on an unused patent. And it would the responsibility where it should be: on drivers who pay more attention to their phones than the road.

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Comments on “California Man Brings Class Action Lawsuit Against Apple For Not Preventing Drivers From Doing Stupid Stuff”

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57 Comments
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Just because a patent is acquired does not mean the company obtaining it has the means to put it to use. Nor does it indicate it ever plans to put the patent to use. It’s an exclusionary process meant to keep others locked out for a certain period of time more than a leading indicator of any company’s immediate plans for the future.

And that’s the biggest problem in all this. How does it make any sense to grant a patent to an applicant in the first place if they don’t have an actual working model?

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Patent are used as playing cards. The game is to build up huge patent portfolios so that whatever your competitor builds, there’s a good chance it’ll infringe in some vague way on one of your patents.

Then when you competitor accuses your product of infringing on a patent, you have a card of your own to play in response.

If someone were to invent the wheel today, competitors and patent trolls would immediately patent axels, spokes, rims, tires, “using a wheel on a vehicle”, “using a wheel to move objects”, “using a wheel on a road”, etc. etc. etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

at least give the patentee a deadline to present at least a working prototype of the thing

How about "time of filing"? The entire point of patents was to reveal useful techniques to the public—if all you’re saying is ‘this would be a great idea but we have no clue how to do it’, go home. While this lawsuit seems silly, I do like the idea that a patent filing can be used against the filer. If Apple claims this isn’t doable, they’d be admitting to a fraudulent patent application.

David (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Just because something can be patented it doesn’t mean it is worth doing or can be done today. The patent may require a technology that is still under development. You cold patent something that requires an extremely small battery that nobody make yet. The proof of concept can use an external battery but it can’t be made into a product until the proper batter is made. If I came up with a process to turn lead into gold I could patent it. If the process took $10,000 an ounce to make gold and gold is selling for $1,200 an ounce, I would be a fool to do it.

Thousands of patents are granted every year and most are never implemented. Most shouldn’t be given patents but that is a different story.

PaulT (profile) says:

“the company’s decision to not implement technology that would prevent drivers from texting while behind the wheel”

I’ve noted this when this story’s come up elsewhere before – actually, Apple *have* implemented such technology, it’s called Airplane Mode. It’s easy to turn on and off, and ensures no texts can be sent or received, they just can’t force people to use it.

So, it seems interesting that what these lawsuits are trying to do (apart from the obvious money grab) is to remove decision making from the hands of the public and put it into the hands of corporations. I don’t think they’ve thought their cunning plan all the way through…

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

According to the earlier story, Apple’s patent took it one step further:

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.

That of course takes the lawsuit a further from credibility: Before the driver can even ignore the in-car dock, they first have to install it. Not just a holder, but a dock that connects to the car’s ignition system, hazard lights and internal memory.

No such system comes in ANY car. If a third party system existed, it would void the warranty on your car. (Back in the mid-2000s here in Manitoba the government used increased car insurance premiums to pressure people into installing RFID ignition immobilizers. But then if say your power door locks stopped working, the immobilizer was blamed and you couldn’t get warranty repair.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not just a holder, but a dock that connects to the car’s ignition system, hazard lights and internal memory.

No such system comes in ANY car. If a third party system existed, it would void the warranty on your car. (Back in the mid-2000s here in Manitoba the government used increased car insurance premiums to pressure people into installing RFID ignition immobilizers. But then if say your power door locks stopped working, the immobilizer was blamed and you couldn’t get warranty repair.)

In the USA, voiding the car’s warranty would be illegal under the Magnuson­­–Moss Warranty Act. But if they showed it really did damage the power door locks or whatever, they wouldn’t have to fix that. Writing to the car’s memory would be a bad idea, but the dock could keep its own log easily enough. Hooking into the hazard lights and ignition switch is something add-on security systems probably already do.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

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 own a cell phone or didn’t bring it with you, left it at home, etc.? Does this docking device just assume everyone has a cell phone and won’t allow the car to run until some phone is shoved into the dock?

And what about passengers? It would be a simple thing when there are multiple phones in the car to use one as an ignition activator and still use one of the other phones for all the bad stuff.

Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously says:

Also sue

Also sue the car manufacturer for making a car in which you can use a phone while driving.
Also sue the council for creating a road on which you can use a phone while driving.
Also sue the government for failing to stop both earlier points.
Also sue the citizens for not forcing the government to `have acted’ already.
Also sue the gods for not performing a miracle for the girl.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Lockout Only the Driver

So shouldn’t there be Radio Lockouts? How many deaths have been because of that? Shouldn’t kids be banned from being in a car? They can be a huge distraction, same goes really with Passengers. Yacking at you, you turning to look at the person. Maybe a little nasty going on. All these things are dangerous and can get people killed. All should be banned if there isn’t a way to lock it up!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Lockout Only the Driver

By the way, we already have laws on using Hands free calling and no texting and people are still doing that in great numbers.

You can already manually put your phone into Airplane mode and stop all this crap and then not be distracted when driving. If that’s a problem for you with no self control and so dumb as to use Facetime of all things while driving a car.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Force the world to change to suit me.
Force a major corporation to be the adult in the room.

People will text and drive because ‘it’ll never happen to me’.
A majority of the legislation to stop this stupidity isn’t that useful, & millions poured into ad campaigns people ignore.

The problem isn’t the phone, the problem is the self centered people who think they are above the law & will never be one of THOSE people. Slapping on digital lockouts will work as well as DRM does.

Stupid should hurt, and that is the only way people will learn.
Hit someone while texting, be on the hook for the cost to repair their car & medical bills.
Welcome to a limited license for 6 months.
Welcome to paying for classes where they teach you not to text and drive like you are 10.
Oh you did it a second time, we’ll just double up everything.
A 3rd time? You are an idiot aren’t you.
Suspended license for a year.

The Feds used to hand out enforcement money to make sure people were buckled up & there were enforcement weekends. At this point in the game I’d be all for the callous answer of first responders arrive on the scene & discover 1 car has buckled people and 1 has unbuckled people… buckled people get first dibs to hell with triage. They refused to take a minimal step to protect themselves, why waste time.

Do you think if people knew that not being buckled would mean going to the back of the line for help in an accident they might buckle up? Tickets aren’t working, points aren’t working. Making it very clear your choices will have detrimental outcomes might get the message across, but probably not because far to often the one that survives the accident is the unbuckled drunk who was limp as they drove on top of the minivan full of kids.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Surprisingly no. It’s a stupid lawsuit blaming the wrong people, but it doesn’t appear to be a cash-grab.

Julio Ceja, who was rear-ended by a driver allegedly distracted while using her iPhone, isn’t seeking monetary damages (save for legal fees). Instead, Ceja hopes Apple will be forced to halt sales of its iPhones in The Golden State until a lock-out mechanism preventing people from using their smartphones while driving is implemented.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Instead, Ceja hopes Apple will be forced to halt sales of its iPhones in The Golden State until a lock-out mechanism preventing people from using their smartphones while driving is implemented.”

Which is even more idiotic. Even if this lawsuit was successful, that would neither stop people from using existing phones nor stop them from using the phones of Apple’s competitors (which, taken as a whole, sell more phones than Apple). Nor, I presume, stop people buying iPhones in other states. Then, once the measure is introduced, people will still find ways to bypass it, while Apple suddenly become liable for behaviour they neither encourage nor can realistically prevent.

It’s actually worse than a cash grab, it’s grandstanding on an important issue, but completely attacking the wrong party in return for something that will absolutely not work.

Anon says:

A few years ago...

A few years ago, some group tried to bring a class action lawsuit in Canada. I forget the issue, some basic industrial crap, as usual. However, in Canada, the loser typically pays the winner’s legal expenses. The group bringing the lawsuit could not demonstrate sufficient resources to pay the costs should they lose (IIRC, since their case was not too solid, then had to post a bond).

America needs this – you lose, typically you pay legal fees. Maybe there would be less frivolous lawsuits.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Let's Face Facts.

I’m going to be the Grinch here!

I think the sense of the meeting is that a lot of people here believe that they can use their smart-phones to play video games while driving in traffic. Because they have such superior reflexes that _they_ won’t have an accident. Duh… I’m a pedestrian myself, and when I am crossing a street, I make a point of flourishing my cane like a musketeer’s sword. Like Monsieur Cyrano De Bergerac, my arm is factually longer by four feet of steel.

I can imagine the automaker designing a signal, perhaps in the infra-red range, which says, in effect, “you are driving a car– pay full attention,” and I can envision Apple being placed under pressure to incorporate a sensor which picks up this signal, so that the smart-phone can act on it.

An automaker can design a built-in radio system, vastly bigger and heavier, and more powerful and efficient than anything which will fit in a pocket device. It can be made much cheaper than a cellphone contract (*), and it can have a Wi-Fi interface for personal devices, as well as a heads-up display for the driver. However, it can also shut things down when they are unsafe. This may include jamming cellphone frequencies within the passenger compartment.

(*) greater use of “millimeter wave” frequencies, eg. 5G or Wi-Fi-“ad,” which are abundant enough that no one can buy them all up and raise the price.

A basic principle is that, when rolling, the car has to have a monopoly of the user interface. Things like GPS navigation have to be built into the heads-up display, and likewise, such external communications as may be truly necessary. That does not mean video-phone. The front-seat passenger should, insofar as possible, be functioning as a co-pilot, reinforcing the driver’s external alertness. The front-seat passenger’s visual acuity should be focuses a couple of hundred feet ahead of the car, so that when he sees trouble developing ahead, he immediately ceases conversing, and starts issuing warnings. If the front-seat passenger is doing something visually involving, like watching a movie or playing a video game, it is too easy for the driver to be sucked into the activity. The front-seat passenger will be obliviously shouting about his orc at just the minute when the driver needs to think about the road. Ordinary computer activities must be confined to the back seat.

You get into your car, start the engine, take out your smart-phone, pull up your Rolodex and the car’s App, and paste across an address you want to go to. The address appears on the heads-up display, with a map location. You paste a link from the car’s App to your telephone interface, and that automatically establishes call-forwarding, and turns off the ring-tone. Now you put your smart-phone away, and move the gear-shift from Park to Drive, and drive away. Your smart-phone doesn’t work until you are back in Park again.

When the automakers set out to really own telecommunications to and from cars, that may be the straw which breaks the back of the mobile telephone companies. There is already apt to be Wi-Fi at home, and in offices and workplaces, and in places of public congregation, such as shopping mall food courts. Cars are the last missing link. Since the telephone companies are the bad guys in terms of net-neutrality, this may have interesting ramifications.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Let's Face Facts.

I think the sense of the meeting is that a lot of people here believe that they can use their smart-phones to play video games while driving in traffic

What on earth give you THAT sense? Nobody has even hinted at such a thing. Nor is it implied by mocking the idea of suing Apple for not controlling something impossible for them to control.

and I can envision Apple being placed under pressure to incorporate a sensor which picks up this signal, so that the smart-phone can act on it.

And what of passengers? I browse the news every morning on my way to work. I’m not driving, but I’m in a moving motor vehicle. Your system MUST let passengers use their phones, but if a passenger can say, "No, I’m just a passenger", then so can the driver.

Solve that and Apple STILL had no control over the crash, because no cars are emitting that signal and Apple has no control over whether they ever will.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Let's Face Facts.

“I think the sense of the meeting is that a lot of people here believe that they can use their smart-phones to play video games while driving in traffic”

Nice strawman. Do you have any other parameters of your fictional world that we need to understand before we address your complaints about it?

“If the front-seat passenger is doing something visually involving, like watching a movie or playing a video game, it is too easy for the driver to be sucked into the activity.”

Unlike when they’re simply sat there talking to them, in which case they magically don’t get distracted. Or at least, I don’t remember lawsuits trying to get people to force passengers not to talk to the driver.

“pull up your Rolodex”

Which decade are you commenting from?

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Let's Face Facts.

To PaulIT: Is it a straw man? One of the scarier taxicab rides I had, the driver insisted on watching a basketball game on his IPad. Like drunk drivers, it only takes one distracted nutjob in a hundred to ruin your whole day.

All right, I accept that you are physically in Spain, and you cannot be the party who tried to run me over in a parking lot in 2006 (and fled the scene of the crime). I managed to leap out of the way, but I came down hard– on asphalt– and got hurt a bit, and it was rather painful coming back from that. Let me assure you that there is nothing at all imaginary about asphalt paving. My attitude is very largely formed by observing crazy drivers, who tend to vent their workplace frustrations behind the wheel. About a year ago, I say a five-way fender-bender at about twenty miles per hour, from a standing stop.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Let's Face Facts.

“To PaulIT: Is it a straw man?”

Unless you can show that people here actually “believe that they can use their smart-phones to play video games while driving in traffic”, then yes.

“One of the scarier taxicab rides I had, the driver insisted on watching a basketball game on his IPad”

I hope you reported him to his employers, if not the police, because someone like that really needs to be off the roads. But just because you anecdotally had an idiot drive you somewhere, that doesn’t mean that “a lot of people here” agree with him, unless you can show that they have stated that they do.

“All right, I accept that you are physically in Spain, and you cannot be the party who tried to run me over in a parking lot in 2006 (and fled the scene of the crime).”

Logic isn’t your strong suit, is it? Just because I’m currently physically in Spain (actually Gibraltar as I write this), that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t physically near you 11 years ago. I’ve visited the US numerous times and have spent at least 6 months there in total during my lifetime. I could have been that guy, as far as you know, unless you operate under the delusion that people never travel anywhere (a strange position to have in a discussion about transportation).

Beyond which, what the hell does your other anecdote have to do with the subject at hand, let alone your strawman of what people here believe?

“My attitude is very largely formed by observing crazy drivers”

Having an anti-idiot driver attitude is perfectly logical as a result. Making stuff up about what other people believe and using bad experiences to support illogical and unworkable solutions is not.

Jenny Oh says:

Re: Let's Face Facts.

I’m just wondering how you think that any of this is your business. You don’t get to decide what a front seat passenger should or shouldn’t be doing. Maybe there are two babies in the backseat in car seats, and there’s an older child sitting up front in the passenger seat. The child is too young to be any kind of a navigation assistant, so why shouldn’t they be able to play an online game or check Facebook or whatever it is little kids do with smart phones?

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Let's Face Facts.

The front-seat passenger should, insofar as possible, be
> functioning as a co-pilot, reinforcing the driver’s
> external alertness. The front-seat passenger’s visual
> acuity should be focused a couple of hundred feet ahead
> of the car

That’s baloney. The passenger has no obligation– legal or otherwise– to help drive the car. In fact, in many cases, the passenger may be asleep so that he/she can switch places and spell the driver later.

That being the case, there is no justification for mandating the use of technology that would not only block the driver’s use of a phone, but would block all the passengers’ as well.

And even if they did start making cars with that tech today, there are still hundreds of millions of cars on the road right now without it, so the effect on safety would be non-existent. And to hell with you if you’re suggesting forcing me to take my non-equipped car into a dealer to have them install this equipment (at my expense, of course). That just ain’t gonna happen.

JustMe (profile) says:

Not just passengers

Although non-driving adults and children would certainly be impacted by the theories in the comment section as well, but also bus and train passengers. Additionally, the jammer idea above would prevent real-time traffic updates and possibly satellite and terrestrial radio (depending on the quality of the jammers and how much care is given to concern about frequency overlap) and even innocent people in their homes (depending on the signal strength needed to fully jam signals within the vehicle). One could also see this impacting vehicles near the jammers (in every passenger car), just as police and ambulance services.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Not just passengers

You do know about the inverse-square law in Physics, don’t you? Say a jammer is mounted in the steering wheel, the effective range to driver-operated electronics would be on the order of a foot, and the distance to a car in the next lane, say ten feet (1/100 signal strength), to nearlby homes, say 100 feet (1/10,000 signal strength). And that is apart from the tendency of the steel automobile body to function as a partial Faraday Cage. If you go to infrared signals, they can be aimed at particular seats, just like light fixtures. Of course, like everything else having to do with automobile manufacturing, this would be subject to exhaustive regulation.

Automobiles kill people, and their regulatory climate reflects this. As long as you have human drivers, it does matter whether the drivers concentrate or not.
=

Jenny Oh says:

How is this supposed to work?

How is Apple supposed to determine that the person using the iPhone is the one driving the car? My sister is legally blind and she uses all kinds of transportation services where someone else is driving her around. Is her going to be blocked while she’s in the passenger seat and someone else is driving? It’s more than a matter of just convenience – using an earpiece, she will occasionally consult Google maps or Waze with voice-over technology, just to make sure the driver isn’t taking her some place she doesn’t want to go.

JustMe (profile) says:

Andrew D. Todd

I do actually understand that principle. You presume a couple of things, sir.

A) That the jamming device isn’t aftermarket, probably made in China
B) That the people making the device have Clue One and aren’t amping up the output to make it “more effective” than their competition (I recall stories about radar and laser jammers in the 90’s impacting nearby businesses and houses, although it isn’t obvious if any of these are valid (properly sourced) and it isn’t worth logging in to search for research papers).

I’m too lazy to do the math and I think the difference is minimal, but at freeway speeds the vehicle behind the jammer moves ever so slightly closer in to range

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