We are all well aware of the dangers of texting while driving, and the risks of using smartphones while operating a motor vehicle. Despite the risks, people continue to drive distracted while injuries and fatalities stemming from distracted driving continue to mount at an alarming rate. Smartphone makers know drivers are using their devices while driving so do they bear any responsibility when a distracted driver causes a crash?
Two devastated families are seeking the answer to that question in two recent lawsuits filed against tech giant Apple. The first involves a tragic Christmas Eve crash in 2014 when 5-year old Moriah Modisette was killed and her family injured by a 22-year old driver who was allegedly using FaceTime on his iPhone and plowed into the back of Moriah’s family’s car while going 65 mph. In the second lawsuit, 5-year old Sammy Meador was paralyzed and his grandmother killed in April 2013 when the 21-year old driver was allegedly texting on her iPhone and crashed into the back of Sammy’s car.
In addition to suing the at-fault drivers, both Moriah’s and Sammy’s families sued Apple claiming it negligently failed to install “lock-out” technology it developed that can stop distracted driving. The families argue that if Apple had installed the lock-out technology, the crashes would have never happened.
The distracted drivers in these crashes are obviously primarily at fault, but does Apple also bear some responsibility, whether legal or moral? Is it foreseeable to Apple that drivers will use their iPhones while driving? If so, what duty does Apple have to make their products as safe as possible?
In support of their argument that Apple is, in fact, aware that drivers use their iPhones while driving, the families each filed paperwork in their respective lawsuits showing Apple developed lock-out technology as early as December 12, 2008 when it first filed paperwork seeking a patent for “Driver Handheld Computing Device Lock-Out.” In its patent application, Apple described the technology as a “lock-out mechanism to prevent operation of one or more functions of handheld computing devices by drivers when operating vehicles.” The patent application also explained the lock-out technology had the ability to determine whether the driver or a passenger was using the iPhone and would, therefore, not prevent passengers from using the device while the vehicle was moving but would successfully prevent the driver from doing so.
Apple successfully secured the patent on the lock-out technology in 2014, yet never installed the software on its popular iPhones. If Apple knows drivers are using their iPhones, why did it develop lock-out technology if it does not intend to use it? Many believe Apple’s refusal is profit-driven, that it fears installing the lock-out technology will result in fewer sales of its iPhones as consumers purchase other smartphones that will allow them to use their devices while driving.
Distracted driving now accounts for more crashes than drunk driving with just as devastating results. If Apple knows people are using their iPhones while driving and causing crashes, and owns the technology to prevent it, does Apple have a duty to install the lock-out technology on its iPhones? If no legal duty exists, does Apple have a moral obligation to consumers and the public? Will we allow Apple and other smartphone makers to continue to choose profits over people when the technology exists to make smartphones safer?
Have you or a loved one been injured by a distracted driver? Contact the experienced attorneys of Bubalo Law PLC for answers to your questions. Our dedicated and award-winning attorneys will fight to help you get the compensation you deserve.