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Is Apple Negligent for FaceTime and Driving Injury?

By Keith Stachowiak on January 6, 2017 // Leave a Comment

MP_CellDriving_blog.jpgYou may have heard about a recent lawsuit alleging Apple of negligence for its management of the app, FaceTime. 

According to the lawsuit, the family of a young girl killed in a rear-end collision claims the company failed to install a "lock-out" feature on FaceTime that would prevent drivers from using the app while on the road. 

What the Lawsuit Against Apple States

The lawsuit alleges that Apple had applied for a patent for this feature in 2008 and was granted the patent in 2014, months before the crash, yet did not install the feature that could have prevented the accident.

Is this a Valid Lawsuit?

This is indeed a valid lawsuit. In fact, it is an extension of what we call dram shop cases. A dram shop case is when a bar over serves someone and then that individual gets behind the wheel and kills or injures an innocent third party. The rationale behind this type of case is that the business knows that there are careless, even reckless people out there, and that the business is in a position to do something to protect innocent third parties.

Here is another example: Auto manufacturers know that vehicles get in crashes, and even though they don’t cause the crash, they can take reasonable steps to prevent injuries – if they don’t, they can be held liable. Without this genre of case, I suspect that airbags would not be very common.

Would this Lawsuit Apply in Wisconsin?

With Wisconsin’s rather anti-consumer laws, this case would be a little more difficult to pursuit and win. We live in a state where the possible fault in a legal case is allocated among all parties. Let’s look at this case hypothetically under Wisconsin’s rule of law:

  • Father and child – 0% fault
  • Driver using FaceTime – 60%
  • Apple – 40%

Let’s say the blame is allocated between the driver using FaceTime, and Apple. So whether it is 60% on the driver and 40% on Apple, or even 90-10%, the plaintiff would only be able to recover the percentage of their damages for the negligence attributable to Apple. So damages could be minimal or non-existent if Apple is not deemed partially negligent. This is called comparative fault

State Modifications to Comparative Fault 

Texas is a modified comparative fault state, where as long as the plaintiff is less than 51% at fault, they can recover all of their damages (less their own negligence) against either defendant.

So in our Apple / FaceTime example, in Texas, where the plaintiff was zero percent at fault, and Apple would be at least 1% at fault, the plaintiff could recover all of their damages from Apple. That is known as joint and several liability, which Wisconsin had until about a decade ago. The pro business group lobbied to repeal that century old common law doctrine.

Do you think Apple is negligent in this case? Let us know in the comments!

Other articles of interest: 

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