California Court Considers Whether Smartphones are to Blame for Driver Distraction

Should smartphone makers be liable for injuries caused by distracted drivers using phone apps?

A California court must soon decide whether smartphone makers like Apple have a duty to protect the public and users of their phones by preventing the use of certain phone applications while driving.  In the case of Modisette v. Apple, Inc., the parents of a deceased child filed suit against Apple, alleging that the driver’s use of the FaceTime feature on an iPhone while driving caused their child’s fatal car accident.  The complaint alleges that Apple wrongfully failed to implement a safer alternative design that would prevent a driver from using FaceTime while driving.

Distracted Driving and Smartphones

The advent of the smartphone propelled driver distraction to epidemic levels.  People today are glued to their mobile devices, even when behind the wheel.  It is estimated that some 3,000 people are killed by distracted drivers annually and another 430,000 injured.  Some researchers believe this number is likely far higher due to underreporting and difficulties in identifying driver distraction.

Aggressive anti-texting while driving ads and greater public awareness have alerted drivers to the danger of using their phones while driving.  Despite knowledge of the problem, drivers continue to text, surf the web, access social media, and engage in other distracting behaviors while behind the wheel.  Difficulties with tackling the problem of distracted driving have led some organizations to conclude that smartphone makers need to be a part of the solution.

Smartphone creators have the ability to lock users out of certain applications while driving.  Apple patented such a design back in 2008, but thus far it has not been adopted or implemented.  The Modisette case is not the first time a smartphone creator has been sued for its role in a distracted driving accident.  In 2015, Apple was sued for a crash involving a driver checking her text messages.  That case is still pending.  A similar case was lodged against Sprint/Nextel, and was ultimately dismissed.

These cases raise novel legal issues that merit careful consideration.  Individuals injured in distracted driving crashes should contact the California car accident lawyers at J&Y for experienced assistance with your injury claim.