Texas Couple Sues Apple in California Court Following Distracted Driving Fatality

smart phoneA Texas couple recently sued Apple, Inc. in Santa Clara Superior Court. The suit claims that the iPhone’s FaceTime app caused the death of their 5-year-old daughter, Moriah Modisette, who was killed in a car crash due to a distracted driver using FaceTime. The child’s parents, James and Bethany Modisette, claim that Apple has failed to use “lock-out” technology to stop FaceTime from being used by drivers: “Apple has consistently and continuously failed to implement a safer, alternative design that would lock-out and prevent use of FaceTime while driving.” The suit alleges negligence and wrongful death, among other causes of action.

Moriah Modisette was killed on Christmas Eve 2014 when her parents’ Toyota Camry was hit from behind by a Toyota SUV driven by then 20-year-old Garrett Wilhelm. The lawsuit indicates the Camry had stopped for traffic when it was hit by Wilhelm’s SUV traveling at 65 mph on Interstate 35. His car allegedly rolled over the driver’s side of the Camry. While both James and Moriah were critically injured, Moriah did not survive the crash: she died of soon after being airlifted to a Fort Worth hospital. James, Bethany, the couples’ other daughter, Isabella, and Wilhelm were all taken in an ambulance to a Denton hospital.

The suit claims that Apple’s failure to exercise reasonable care caused or contributed to the risk of causing Wilhelm to use FaceTime while driving, which caused him to be distracted from the conditions on the road. According to the official US government website for distracted driving (Distraction.gov), in 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. The website lists texting, eating, talking, grooming, reading, adjusting the radio, among others, as types of distractions, but says that “because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention, it is by far the most alarming distraction.” Since 2007, young drivers (age 16 to 24) have been observed using electronic devices while driving at higher rates than older drivers.

The Modisette lawsuit, which was filed in December 2016, claims that Apple was given a patent in 2014 for a FaceTime feature that would have used GPS tracking to prevent people from using the app while driving. (Apple allegedly applied for the patent in 2008.) The design, however, was never implemented. The suit claims that the cost of altering FaceTime’s design would have been minimal and there were no discernible disadvantages to implementing the technology.

The suit alleges that Apple’s failures were a substantial factor in causing plaintiffs’ injuries, and in the Moriah’s death. Not only did Apple never implement the “driver handheld computing device lock-out” design, but it also failed to warn drivers against using the feature while driving. Wilhelm’s conduct, the suit claims, is inextricably related to Apple’s failure to implement the lock-out feature. Apple therefore breached a duty of care to the plaintiffs.

Wilhem’s FaceTime app was apparently still active when the officers arrived on scene,and he admitted to police that he was using FaceTime at the time of the collision. The  22-year-old has since been charged with manslaughter. Unlike many states, Texas has no law restricting cellphone use for drivers over 18 years old on the state’s highways.

The Modisettes do not seek to compel Apple to implement the technology, but rather they are suing for damages and medical expenses.

Distraction.gov believes that the best way to end distracted driving is to educate the public.

The personal injury lawyers at the Neumann Law Group represent victims throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.

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