Modisette v. Apple Inc. – Distracted Driving Blamed on Crash That Killed 5-Year-Old

The family of a 5-year-old girl killed in a car accident by a driver who was reportedly distracted is suing technology giant Apple Inc. for wrongful death. Plaintiffs allege Apple officials knew its FaceTime app, in use by the at-fault driver at the time of the fatal crash, was being used by drivers in a dangerous manner. Further, plaintiffs say, Apple had the technology needed to make the app inaccessible to drivers (while still allowing passengers to access it), and yet chose not to implement it. sad

Specifically, plaintiffs say the company failed to install and implement a safer alternative design that would have halted a driver from accessing the app while speeding down the highway.

According to court records in Modisette v. Apple Inc., filed in the Superior Court of California in Santa Clara County, the girl was in a booster seat in the rear passenger seat, behind her father, who was driving. He slowed his vehicle because traffic ahead on the highway was backed to a standstill. However, the driver behind them, a 22-year-old from Florida in a sport utility vehicle, apparently didn’t notice the slowed traffic as he barreled down the road at 65 mph. He slammed into the back of the car. Everyone was injured, the little girl and her dad most severely. He survived. She did not. 

Public reaction to the lawsuit has been mixed, with many wondering how it’s possible that a technology company could be responsible for the negligent actions of a user. After all, where is the personal responsibility? And isn’t this akin to suing a gun manufacturer when someone recklessly pulls the trigger?

The reality is, there is well-established legal precedence that allows for third-party liability under certain circumstances. For example, we may pursue a premises liability lawsuit against a property owner who could have reasonably foreseen a criminal attack on site, yet failed to do enough to protect lawful guests. We might also take legal action against a bar or restaurant that served alcohol to an underage person who then went out and drunkenly crashed a car. Similarly, we can hold a company vicariously liable for the negligent actions of an employee or a car owner responsible for the wrongful acts of someone else who had permission to use that vehicle. So this is not a new concept. The question is whether the technology manufacturer owed a duty of care to people on the road.

The other point that is important to note is that while the family is suing Apple, that doesn’t necessarily mean the driver is off-the-hook. He (and his auto insurance company) can also be liable for the accident.

On a related note, as distracted driving crashes like this one increase across the country – including in Florida, where 200 people died in such distracted driving accidents last year – lawmakers are looking to tighten the existing distracted driving laws. Texting and driving is illegal in Florida, but the penalty is just a $30 ticket – not much of a deterrent. It’s also a secondary offense, meaning officers can’t initiate a traffic stop on that basis alone. A bill just proposed would make it a primary offense by July of this year and would increase the penalties.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Family Sues Apple, Claiming FaceTime Distracted Driver in Crash That Killed 5-Year-Old Daughter, Jan. 2, 2017, ABC News

More Blog Entries:

Kaplan v. Dutra – Protecting Debtor’s Personal Injury Claims in Bankruptcy, Jan. 3, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Injury Lawyer Blog