Apple Sued for Failing To Prevent Fatal FaceTime Crash

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Apr 1, 2017

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Apple StoreA recent lawsuit claims that Apple is responsible for a fatal crash because it had the patent to prevent drivers from using FaceTime, but failed to install it.

The Incident

On December 24, 2014, a vehicle that was traveling at approximately 65 miles per hour struck another vehicle that was occupied by James and Bethany Modisette and their two children. The driver of the vehicle told the police at the scene that he had been using the FaceTime app on his phone at the time of the crash. The police found the app still running with a call in progress when they arrived at the scene.

James and Bethany Modisette and their daughter, Isabellah, survived the crash with injuries, but their five-year-old daughter Moriah died as a result of her injuries from the crash.

The Patent

In 2008, Apple applied for a patent that would “lock out the ability of drivers to use the ‘FaceTime’ application on the Apple iPhone while using a motor vehicle.”  The U.S. Patent office granted the patent in April 2014. The abstract for the patent reads

Lock-out mechanisms for driver handheld computing devices. The lock-out mechanisms disable the ability of a handheld computing device to perform certain functions, such as texting, while one is driving. In one embodiment, a handheld computing device can provide a lock-out mechanism without requiring any modifications or additions to a vehicle by using a motion analyzer, a scenery analyzer and a lock-out mechanism. In other embodiments, the handheld computing device can provide a lock-out mechanism with modifications or additions to the vehicle, including the use of signals transmitted by the vehicle or by the vehicle key when engaged with the vehicle.

The patent explained how the lockout would work:

A handheld computing device comprising: a motion analyzer configured to detect whether the handheld computing device is in motion beyond a predetermined threshold level; a scenery analyzer configured to determine whether the handheld computing device is located within a safe operating area of a vehicle based on at least one of picture data and video data; and a lock-out mechanism configured to automatically and selectively disable one or more functions of the handheld computing device based on outputs from the motion analyzer and the scenery analyzer.

The Lawsuit

On December 23, 2016, the Modisette family sued Apple in California state court, alleging that the company failed to implement technology that could have prevented the crash. The complaint argues that,

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 has consistently and continuously failed to implement a safer, alternative design that would lock-out and prevent use of FaceTime while driving.

The complaint additionally claims Apple’s “failure to design, manufacture, and sell the iPhone 6 Plus with the patented, safer, alternative design technology already available to it … and failure to warn users that the product was likely to be dangerous when used or misused in a reasonably foreseeable manner … rendered the Apple iPhone 6 defective when it left defendant APPLE INC.’s possession, and were therefore a substantial factor in causing plaintiffs’ injuries and the decedent’s death.”

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