Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Apple Wins Fatal Texting Accident Case Before New iPhone Launch

Now that smartphones have become the most distracting part of human anatomy, it seems like common sense that lawmakers would enact regulations to prohibit, or at least limit, their use while driving.

In addition to lawmakers doing what they can to stop people from being distracted by their devices while driving, device makers are as well. Apple recently announced that a "Safe Driving Mode" will be included in the newest iPhone operating system, iOS 11, set to debut with the tenth anniversary edition of the iPhone.

However, that Safe Driving Mode was the center of an unsuccessful negligence lawsuit filed by the parents of a deceased teen in California.

Devices Don't Cause Accidents, People Do

The California case stemmed from the death of a 20 year old caused by a car accident where the at-fault driver was distracted due to texting on her iPhone. As the court noted in their opinion, the causation element linking Apple to the fatal accident "was too attenuated."

Essentially, the court is saying that the personal device manufacturers are not liable when individuals use their products in an unsafe manner. Even though Apple had the ability to install the Safe Driving Mode on older devices, a court did not find that Apple has a duty to third parties injured by others using one of their devices.

Not the First, Probably Not the Last

The California court's ruling followed a federal ruling out of Texas that pleaded similar facts. While the court explicitly stated that the Texas federal ruling was merely instructive, it appears that both courts agreed as to the potential liability of device makers to third parties.

This line of cases is reminiscent of the gun cases that seek to hold gun makers liable for the shooting deaths of individuals. While the cases are compelling, courts are often reluctant to impose liability against manufacturers for the misuse of their products, although if a device was malfunctioning, such as a certain other brand of phone catching fire while someone was driving, that might lead to a different result.

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