Apple Continues to Escape From Distracted Driving Lawsuits
Ashley M. Kubiak was checking messages on her iPhone when she rammed her Dodge pickup truck into an SUV being driven by a 63-year-old woman from Henderson in Rusk County, Texas. This incident occurred on April 30th, 2013. The driver and one passenger of the SUV were pronounced dead at the scene while 7-year-old Sammy Meador, who was riding in the back of the SUV, was left paralyzed.
A Terrible Situation
In another instance, Garrett Wilhelm was using FaceTime on his iPhone when he crashed his Toyota 4Runner into a sedan carrying a young family of four from Crossroads. The crash killed 5-year-old Moriah Modisette and severely injured the other three Modisette family members. Police say that Wilhelm was video chatting as he sped along a highway in Denton on Christmas Eve in 2014. Kubiak and Wilhelm would face criminal charges but Apple, Inc. hasn’t been left untouched with this legal fallout either.
Watch YouTube Video: Family Sues Apple, Claiming FaceTime Distracted Driver. In this video, Good Morning America reports about the Texas couple who filed a lawsuit against Apple for the distracted driving accident that killed their 5-year-old daughter.
Apple Knew its iPhones are Dangerous
The technology giant clearly knew the danger of people getting distracted by the active use of their iPhones and other Apple devices while driving but they still don’t force people to use the software. Apple submitted a patent for a lockout system in 2008. This system is capable of disabling the iPhone functions that may interfere with the safe operation of a vehicle by a driver. However, the company did not implement the technology in their smartphones which is fine by some people because of the nature of free will. This has led to several lawsuits against Apple, arising from crashes caused by distracted driving. Apple has been quick on its toes, making short work of the lawsuits. So far, all cases against the company have been dismissed prior to trial. That includes the cases of Meador and Modisette families. The California Supreme Court has also declined to review the case of Modisette family.
Apple is Winning
The courts have rejected at least five cases against Apple, ruling that the company was not responsible for the reckless driving by the distracted drivers and they had no legal duty to implement the lockout technology.
The Driver’s Choice
It should be noted that product litigation, if successful, can result in a regulation that forces manufacturers to add extra safety features to protect them against liability. However, the wireless service providers and device manufacturers so far have succeeded in flicking away any legal attacks. That doesn’t mean all these lawsuits against Apple have been complete without effect.
In 2017, the company introduced an app that allows motorists to block incoming calls and texts. However, this “Do Not Disturb While Driving” app must be activated by the driver, therefore, its use is entirely voluntary which is logical. There is already distracted driving laws in place in most states – certainly California. And as the critics say, people who know better than to use their iPhones while driving do not need this app, while the compulsive phone users obviously wouldn’t pay any attention to it.
Watch YouTube Video: Do Not Disturb While Driving in iOS11. This video provides a look at Apple’s Do Not Disturb app that helps prevent distracted driving.
Courts Rule in Favor of the Tech Giant
Parents of Moriah Modisette filed a wrongful death suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court, California, where Apple is headquartered. The Modisette family filed an appeal in a state appeals court in California after the court threw out their case against the company. This appeal was also rejected. The panel ruled that California law cannot impose a duty on the manufacturer to modify the design of the cell phone so that users cannot use it while driving.
The Modisette family filed the petition in January which was denied by the highest court in California. The Modisette’s lawyers said in the petition that iPhones have altered the way people live, behave, and think, and that’s why this case has serious legal implications for the safety of everyone traveling on the roads and highways in California. Meanwhile, the Apple lawyers have argued that the rulings of these appeals didn’t require a review by the Supreme Court. They said that these rulings merely solidify what the courts in California and nationwide have acknowledged–that product manufacturers are not responsible for car accidents that occur due to distracted driving.
Should Apple Assume People Will Make the Wrong Decision?
Some legal experts believe that since it’s the manufacturers who have designed such a product that’s causing an epidemic of distracted driving cases, it becomes their duty to design the phones in such a way as to control their usage during driving. It does not help that Apple has not implemented the lockout system – again, as already mentioned. But other people are asking should everyone be punished because of the actions of a few?
Other people believe that people get into car wrecks for all sorts of reasons such as: trying to adjust their clothing while driving, being distracted by a pet in the car or a child, and the list just continues. Though if this is the case then these people are liable because they became unsafe drivers.
Gregory Keating, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Southern California, says that in absolving Apple of these cases, courts are recognizing that the company is not encouraging this reckless use of their iPhones but they are not preventing it either. But what about the “don’t disturb app”? Should Apple be compelled to use the lockout system for all drivers with iPhones? Should drivers be forced to connect their smartphones to their car’s audio system to allow for hands-free communication? Prof. Keating also observed that Apple is one of the most popular and admired companies in America, and filing a lawsuit against the tech company is not going to be easy for the plaintiffs.
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