The parents of a five-year-old who was fatally injured in a car accident have filed suit against Apple for failure to implement proper safety features. The action arises out of a collision that occurred when the family’s car was rear-ended by a driver using FaceTime while operating his vehicle.
On December 24th, 2014, parents James and Bethany Modisette were riding in the front of their Toyota Camry when the driver behind them failed to adjust the speed of his vehicle to the pace of traffic ahead. The 20-year-old driver was traveling at 65 miles per hour when he crashed into the back of the family’s sedan. The accident fatally injured the Modisettes’ daughter, Moriah, who was sitting in the backseat of the car at the time. The couple and their eldest daughter, Isabella, who was also in the backseat, suffered minor injuries.
The accident occurred in Texas, where there are no laws pertaining to highway cellphone use by drivers over the age of 18. Thus, the driver will not face reprimand for using his iPhone 6 Plus at the time of the incident. Instead the Modisettes, through their attorneys at Simon, Greenstone, Panatier & Bartlett P.C., are faulting the driver’s phone company. The complaint, filed this past December, emphasizes Apple’s role in the highly preventable accident. Not only did Apple bear the responsibility of implementing in-app safety features, it also had ample time to do so: the company’s videocall application, otherwise known as FaceTime, was introduced six years ago, in 2010. Despite its obvious potential for distracting drivers, the app has yet to be curtailed by any safety-related features. According to the family’s counsel, the other driver should not have been able to use FaceTime while driving at such an accelerated speed, as the app “require[s] cognitive, manual, audio, and visual efforts to operate, any and all of which distract the attention of a driver away from the task of safely operating his or her motor vehicle.” Thus, negligence on behalf of Apple contributed to the tragic collision.
In order to support their point, the plaintiffs’ attorneys refer to data on distracted driving, tying it to the “time distortion and dissociation” known to result from the use of smartphones. Distracted driving can be divided into three categories: visual, manual, and cognitive, all of which are triggered by the use of apps like FaceTime. This is especially dangerous given what is known about the prevalence of simultaneous phone usage and driving. Although wide awareness exists for the dangers of using a cellphone while driving, most drivers still elect to engage in this sort of behavior. Consequentially, phone companies like Apple have an obligation to implement technical restrictions that limit a consumer’s ability to use their device while on the road. In the context of the case, the rear driver should have been “locked out” of his phone, given the speed he was traveling at. Smartphones are capable of performing these sorts of functions, and should have been programmed to do so long ago, according to attorneys.
Modisette v. Apple, Inc. No. 16CV304364. Superior Court of Santa Clara County, California.
Wuerthele, Mike. (29 Dec. 2016). “Lawsuit blames Apple’s ‘less safe’ FaceTime implementation for fatal traffic accident.” Apple Insider. Retrieved from http://www.appleinsider.com