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.