The accidental death of a child is a profound tragedy, the worst a family can experience. On Christmas Eve 2014, parents James and Bethany Modisette were driving with their 5-year-old daughter Moriah and her 8-year old sister Isabella when their Toyota Camry was struck from behind by a Toyota 4Runner on Interstate 35 north of Dallas. Texas.
The driver of the 4Runner, 22-year-old Garrett Wilhelm, was using his Facetime app when he struck the Modisettes’ vehicle, pushing it forward and around until the car faced the wrong direction in the traffic lane. James and Moriah were both critically injured. Moriah was airlifted to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, where she died of her injuries. Wilhelm, whose Facetime app was still active when police arrived on the scene, was indicted in 2015 for felony manslaughter.
In 2016, the Modisettes filed a wrongful death lawsuit in California against Apple, accusing the company of negligence. The suit claim Apple failed to activate a patented but never used Facetime design that uses GPS to track speed and prevent people from using Facetime while driving. “Apple, Inc.’s failure to exercise reasonable care caused or contributed to the risk of causing Garrett Wilhelm to use Facetime while driving his car … which caused him to be distracted from the conditions on the road ahead,” the lawsuit states. The suit seeks monetary damages. According to ABC News, the basis of the Modisettes’ lawsuit is that the electronics giant failed to install and implement a “safer, alternative design” for Facetime that would have helped prevent a driver from using the app while traveling at highway speed.
The number one cause of vehicle crashes in the U.S. is distracted driving. Many Americans do other things while they’re driving, whether it’s eating, fixing hair and makeup, talking on the phone, texting or using other apps. Smartphones and other handheld devices have made the problem worse. You are four times more likely than attentive drivers to get in a crash when using a smartphone while driving. This case raises an interesting question. If a company has the technology to make something safer for the public, should they be held partly responsible if someone is injured?
Craig Follis has extensive experience in litigation, negotiating and settling suits, and providing legal opinions on liability and insurance coverage. You can reach him at (888) 703-0109 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.