This could establish the rules defining how much responsibility tech companies have in driver distraction.
In 1992, Stella Liebeck sued McDonalds when she spilled the franchise's hot coffee on her lap, causing 3rd degree burns to her lower body and requiring painful skin grafts on her thighs and genitalia to heal. Many who don't know the details about the case write Liebeck off as a woman who won nearly $3 million for simply complaining that coffee was hot, but the facts show that McDonalds was at fault for serving dangerously overheated joe. On initial impression, this doesn’t seem to be the case in a current lawsuit between Apple and a Texas family.
As Business Insider reveals, the lawsuit surrounds a tragic accident that occurred in Texas on Christmas Eve in 2014. It happened when the Modisette family was driving while the driver was distracted by using the FaceTime app. Suddenly, the family car rammed into stopped traffic while traveling 65 mph because the driver failed to see the road blockage ahead. In the car were Bethany and James Modisette up front with their two children, Isabella and Moriah, in the back. All were sent to the hospital with serious injuries and Moriah later died of her injuries. While this tragic case is more than enough of an argument against distracted driving, the family lawyer has taken the case to California court alleging that the driver isn't the only one to blame.
According to the lawyer, Apple has access to technology that would have blocked the driver from using FaceTime and helped avoid the crash. The tech company submitted an application in 2008 for software that could determine if a user is behind the wheel and then lock them out until it determines that they are using it safely. Apple was granted the patent in 2014 but for one reason or another, it never rolled out the technology. The Modisette family lawyer is alleging that the tech company is partially to blame for the accident because it never released the software that it had access to. To us it seems that the crash could have been avoided simply by putting down the phone and focusing on the road.
After all Anheuser Busch isn't held responsible for drunk driving accidents. However, the main argument behind the Modisette family's case is that tech companies have a greater responsibility to ensure that their customers are using technology safely despite the fact that FaceTime should not have been used by the driver at all, especially not during the most dangerous time of year to be on the road. There is plenty of grey area that will have to be defined by the judge and jury, but the results of the case could potentially set the precedence for how the eyes of the law see the role that tech companies have in public safety regarding their products.