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Apple Not Liable for Fatal Distracted-Driving Car Crash

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Earlier this month, a California appeals court held that Apple Inc. was not liable for a fatal automobile accident involving a driver who was using the FaceTime application on his iPhone at the time of the crash. The accident occurred on December 24, 2014 on Interstate 35W in Denton County, Texas. Bethany and James Modisette along with their two daughters were stopped on the highway due to police activity when Garret Wilhelm crashed into the Modisette's vehicle at a high rate of speed. Wilhelm reportedly told police that he was using the FaceTime application on his Apple iPhone 6 Plus at the time of the collision. The entire Modisette family sustained injuries and one of the daughters, aged five, subsequently died in the hospital.

The Modisettes sued Apple Inc. in Santa Clara County Superior Court for general and gross negligence, negligent and strict products liability, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium, and public nuisance. The Modisettes alleged that Apple's failure to design the iPhone to 'lock out' a driver's ability to use the FaceTime application on the Apple iPhone while operating a motor vehicle resulted in their injuries. The Modisettes also alleged that Apple had wrongfully failed to implement a safer alternative design (lockout technology) that would automatically prevent drivers from utilizing FaceTime while driving at a certain speed. According to the complaint, Apple applied for a patent for its lockout technology in December 2008, stating that the technology was designed to "disable the ability of a handheld computing device to perform certain functions, such as texting, while one is driving." The patent was issued in April 2014 and the iPhone 6 Plus was released in September 2014.

The California appeals court concluded that the Modisettes' claims for general and gross negligence, negligent products liability, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and public nuisance failed because Apple did not owe a duty of care. In reaching this decision, the court pointed to the tenuous connection between the family's injuries and Apple's design of the iPhone 6 Plus without lockout technology and the burden to Apple and corresponding consequences to the community that would flow from such a duty. The court also determined that the Modisettes' claims for strict products liability, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and loss of consortium failed for lack of proximate cause. As such, the trial court's judgment was affirmed.

If you or someone you know has been injured or killed by a distracted driver, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz by calling 713-222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584.

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