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Apple Sued Over FaceTime Car Crash

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

American parents sue Apple after a driver killed their child, whilst using FaceTime app

The highly litigious nature of the American legal system has been highlighted once again after grieving parents filed a lawsuit against Apple over its FaceTime messaging system.

The lawsuit came about after a fatal car crash in Texas in 2014, and the central thrust of the complaint is that Apple did not include a patented technology that could have stopped FaceTime from being used by a car driver.

FaceTime allows users of Apple devices to make and receive both audio and video calls. It is currently incompatible with non-Apple devices and unlike Skype, it is not a multi-person video chatting application.

car crashApple Lawsuit

The lawsuit was filed on Friday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, and concerns “a family grieving the death of their young daughter.”

The family reportedly wants Apple to be held accountable for encouraging distracted driving with its FaceTime app.

According to the PatentlyApple website, James and Bethany Modisette allege that Apple had the patent for a safer version of its ‘FaceTime’ video calling app, but elected to make the less safe version available with the iPhone 6 – ultimately resulting in the death of their daughter.

The family argue that Apple had already applied for a patent in 2008, which was granted in April 2014, which would have locked out the ability of drivers to utilise the FaceTime application on the iPhone if driving a motor vehicle.

The Modisette family alleged in their court filing that Apple is therefore responsible for their daughter’s death because of its “failure to install and implement the safer, alternative design for which it sought a patent in December 2008 (later issued by the United States Patent Office in April 2014) to, which resulted in the injuries sustained by plaintiffs.”

Car Crash

The tragic case took place on 24 December 2014, when the Modisettes and their daughters Isabella and Moriah were in their car on Interstate I-35 just north of Dallas.

James Modisette reportedly slowed the family car due to heavy traffic. But unfortunately, a twenty-year old driver did not see the traffic jam and he slammed into the family’s car at 65 mph. The impact severely injured both James and Moriah, who was 5 years old at the time.

Moriah later died from her injuries.

The youngster who drove into the back of the Modisette family car admitted to police that he was on the FaceTime application at the time of the crash. Indeed, police officers found FaceTime was still live when they arrived at the scene.

“Defendant Apple Inc. has had the technology to prevent these events, and the Modisettes’ injuries, specifically since at least Dec. 12, 2008, when it filed an application with the U.S. Patent Office for a ‘driver handheld computing device lock-out,” the family said in the complaint.

Apple has reportedly refused to comment, and the Modisettes are said to be seeking monetary damages and medical expenses.

Whilst the case is certainly tragic, it remains to be seen whether the lawsuit’s claims have any merit, but if the family should win, it could set a legal precedent for many other technology firms.

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