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12/18/2018
California: Apple Not Responsible For Fatal FaceTime Car Crash
Motorist distracted by FaceTime app, not cell phone maker, held liable in fatal crash under California Court of Appeal ruling.

Garret WilhelmIt is not Apple's fault that a driver using FaceTime on his iPhone caused a fatal rear end collision, the California Court of Appeal ruled on Friday. A three-judge panel absolved the Cupertino-based company of responsibility for the crash that took place on a Interstate 35W in Denton County, Texas, on Christmas Eve four years ago.

Bethany and James Modisette were driving in their Toyota Camry with their daughters, Isabella and Moriah, when they came upon a traffic jam and slowed to a stop. Behind them, Garrett Edward Wilhelm was distracted by the FaceTime app on his Apple iPhone 6, and he did not see the brake lights. His Toyota 4Runner plowed into the stationary Camry at 65 MPH, killing Moriah Modisette, aged five, and severely injuring the rest of the family. In their suit against the $785 billion consumer electronics firm, the Modisettes pointed out that Apple had developed, but not deployed, a specific "driver handheld computing device lock-out" technology.

"Apple Inc's 2008 patent application reveals that Apple expressly knew or should have known of the risks to human life and safety associated with, and created by, the intended or reasonably foreseeable use and misuse of certain functions available on the iPhone, such as texting while operating a motor vehicle," the family's attorney, Jeffrey B. Simon, wrote.

A three-judge appellate panel rejected the claim, finding Apple could not be blamed for choices made by others.

"For the Modisettes to be injured, they had to stop on a highway due to police activity; Wilhelm had to choose to use his iPhone while driving in a manner that caused him to fail to see that the Modisettes had stopped; and Wilhelm had to hit the Modisettes' car with his car, an object heavy enough to cause the Modisettes' severe injuries," Judge Allison Marston Danner wrote for the court. "It was Wilhelm's conduct of utilizing FaceTime while driving at highway speed that directly placed the Modisettes in danger. Nothing that Apple did induced Wilhelm's reckless driving."

The court also was unwilling to issue a sweeping ruling that would result in every cell phone manufacturer having to redesign their products to lock out cell phone applications while driving. It would also thwart drivers from, for example, using their phone to report a drunk driver, as is allowed under California law.

"The Modisettes' complaint alleges a duty that, at its core, may preclude cellular-phone manufacturers from allowing the use of phones while driving, notwithstanding California law that expressly permits such uses under certain circumstances," Judge Danner wrote.

Wilhelm remains free on a $25,000 bond. He is charged with manslaughter.

A copy of the ruling is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Modisette v. Apple Inc (Court of Appeal, State of California, 12/14/2018)

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