A new product liability lawsuit alleges California technology company Apple had the patented technology to prevent a fatal distracted driving accident in Texas several years ago, but failed to implement it. A woman was speeding down a Texas highway three years ago in a Dodge Ram truck, scrolling through her iPhone for messages. She was distracted. She slammed into a sport utility vehicle. She killed the driver and front seat passenger in that SUV. The child who was inside was left permanently paralyzed.
Now, a federal lawsuit against Apple asserts the company filed a patent back in 2008 for a technology feature that would lock out a driver’s phone with certain sensors to determine when the phone was moving and in use by a motor vehicle driver. The theory goes that Apple is liable because it could have prevented certain functions, like texting, and yet chose not to do so. In that patent filing, Apple indicates that the technology was needed because texting behind the wheel had become so widespread and law enforcement had been ineffective at curbing it. The application even went so far as to say that teens especially were vulnerable to risk, and evidence had shown that while teens know it’s dangerous, it doesn’t stop them from doing it.
So the big question then becomes: Then why wasn’t Apple using this technology?
Car accident deaths have risen to levels we haven’t seen since the 1960’s. The distraction of drivers is a huge part of this problem. So now this lawsuit asks whether Apple had a responsibility to install this technology because it clearly knew drivers would be using their phones for texting and yet failed to stop them – specifically, this woman – from using this feature, resulting in harm to the victims.
Legal analysts have largely concurred that plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail in this action. In order for that to happen, they’d have to show the use of the iPhone specifically caused this fatal accident. Defendant driver was arrested and later convicted of negligent homicide, sentenced to five years of probation. Her criminal defense lawyer says she now drives with her phone in the back seat of her vehicle. But must it really take causing a double fatal accident and paralyzing a young child for life to get drivers to put down their phones? And if so, why don’t phone companies like Apple use the technology they have to prevent these tragic accidents that are known to be happening each and every day in this country?
Apple, AT&T, Verizon and other communication firms have come out with warnings, cautioning people against using their phones while driving. They also concede the laws intended to stop this practice are not working. What legal experts say this shows is an acknowledgement that their products pose foreseeable danger and are routinely being used for illegal and and sometimes fatal activity.
As a spokeswoman for the National Safety Council has said, while the technology is easily available, it’s not used because phone companies, “Don’t have the stomach” to do so. They fear losing their customer base. Meanwhile, families are continuing to lose their loved ones.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Phone Makers Could Cut Off Drivers. So Why Don’t They? Sept. 24, 2016, By Matt Richtel, The New York Times
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Court: Companies Can’t Dictate Own Rules for Worker Injuries, Sept. 26, 2016, Miami Car Accident Lawyer Blog