Last year, we discussed a lawsuit filed in Georgia against Snapchat for allegedly causing a motor vehicle accident in which the at-fault motorist was distracted while using the social media application. In discussing the liability of product manufacturers in suits like this one, we offered the following concerns:
[W]e must disclose that our initial reaction to hearing of the suit was to cry foul and lament the future slippery slope of holding manufacturers liable for the poor decisions of users while operating a motor vehicle. After all, if Snapchat can be liable for allegedly distracting a driver who uses the app while driving, can cell phone manufacturers or service providers be sued for a driver’s decision to text and drive? What a perilous world we would live in right?
As we expected, those words would deem prophetic.
Recently, a lawsuit was filed in California against Apple because a Texas man was using FaceTime on his iPhone 6 Plus while driving when he rear-ended a vehicle in December 2014 and killed a 5-year old girl. The driver admitted using FaceTime and later found himself indicted by a grand jury on a manslaughter charge. As for Apple’s responsibility, the family alleges that the company “failed to install and implement the safer, alternative design . . . to ‘lock out’ the ability of drivers to utilize the ‘FaceTime’ application on the Apple iPhone while driving a motor vehicle.” Moreover, Apple allegedly “failed to warn its users that its product was likely to be dangerous when used or misused in a reasonably foreseeable manner.”
In full disclosure, the company apparently applied for a patent for the “lock-out” technology in 2008 and had the patent issued in December 2014 (Ed. Note – It is uncertain whether the patent was issued before or after the December 2014 accident date, whether Apple actually developed the technology, and, if so, whether it could have been implemented prior to the accident). Nonetheless, our question is should it matter? As we questioned last year in regard to the Snapchat lawsuit:
Even if the accident is foreseeable, isn’t a lawsuit such as this one akin to the much ballyhooed suits against gun manufacturers? The app and filter are legal and non-defective. We are not aware of any evidence that it is marketed as a “break the speed limit” filter. The choice to travel in excess of 100 mph ultimately falls on McGee, an able-bodied adult who knew or should have known of the dangers.
Now, we can replace “speed filter” with “FaceTime,” and the question still remains – who is really responsible for a distracted driving accident?