A California appeals court has dismissed a product liability case against Apple over one of its apps in a landmark ruling deciding the tech giant’s liability for a fatal car accident.
The California Court of Appeal, Sixth Appellate District, has finally put an end to the four-year-long battle between Apple and a family whose 5-year-old child died on Christmas Eve 2014 in a fatal highway accident. The appeals court dismissed Apple’s liability in the FaceTime-use car crash involving severe injuries and a fatality.
In its milestone ruling on December 14, the California appeals court decided that Apple cannot be held liable for the car crash caused by a driver distracted by a FaceTime video call.
This is not the first time a smartphone application maker has been sued for a car accident caused by a driver’s use of a phone app. In a closely-watched case against Snapchat, a Georgia court ruled that the app maker, Snap Inc., could be liable for a speed-recording photo and video feature.
But let’s get back to our product liability case involving iPhone’s FaceTime. Bethany, James, Isabella, and Moriah, 5, Modisette were in a car that was stopped on a Texas highway due to traffic jams in the area. Another car driver, Garrett Wilhelm, 20, who was distracted by a FaceTime video call on his iPhone, plowed into the car operated by the Modisette.
As a result of the high-speed car crash, five-year-old Moriah sustained fatal injuries and died at the hospital. Moriah’s father, mother, and sister sustained non-fatal injuries in the accident. Wilhelm, the distracted driver, was charged with manslaughter. According to a product liability lawsuit filed by the Modisettes, Wilhelm was using FaceTime at the time of the crash.
Two years after the crash, the Modisette filed a product liability lawsuit against Apple, arguing that the smartphone manufacturer was negligent with the FaceTime app and shared liability for the fatal car crash. Although the case was dismissed by a California Superior Court judge, the Modisette family appealed to the California Appeals Court 6th Appellate District.
But the appeals court has ruled that Apple did not owe a duty of care to the family whose child died in the high-speed car wreck. “The court also dismissed the family’s argument that Apple’s failure to design an iPhone with technology to lock users out of apps while operating a vehicle caused the car crash,” explains our experienced product liability attorney in California.
The appeals court ruled that the link between Apple’s actions and the car accident was not as direct as in other cases in which courts ruled that the defendant owed a plaintiff a duty of care. In its argument, the court insisted that the smartphone maker’s design of the iPhone and FaceTime simply made the distracted driver’s use of the device and app possible.
Thus, the appeals court rejected the Modisette family’s argument that smartphones may never be used safely by motorists. The family’s failure to establish that Apple caused the car crash led to the court’s dismissal of the product liability and other claims made by the family in the lawsuit.
However, in no way does it mean that Apple can never be held liable for injuries or damages caused by persons who use the company’s apps or devices. If you can prove that Apple or any other smartphone or app maker (such as Samsung) owed you a duty of care and that duty was breached due to negligence, recklessness, or any other form of action, you may be able to sue the smartphone or app manufacturer under the legal theory of product liability.