Fairfax Media

Family sues Apple over FaceTime’s role in fatal car crash

The family claims that Apple failed to ‘lock out the ability of drivers to utilise the FaceTime application on the Apple iPhone while driving a motor vehicle’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 12:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 12:23pm

By Tim Biggs

A family in the US is suing Apple after a man using the FaceTime app on his iPhone while driving collided with their car, killing their five-year-old daughter.

On Christmas eve, 2014, James and Bethany Modisette were driving on the highway in Texas with their two daughters when they were forced to stop their Camry ahead of a blockage caused by police activity.

Driving behind them, Garrett Wilhelm failed to stop and his SUV slammed into the car at 105km/h, tearing it apart and riding up over the top. Bethany and the older daughter, Isabella, were injured but managed to escape the car, while James and the younger daughter, Moriah, had to be extracted by rescue workers.

Moriah Modisette, who was strapped into a booster seat at the time of the crash, was flown to a nearby hospital but died.

Wilhelm - whose iPhone, the family allege, was still running FaceTime when the police recovered it after the crash - was charged with manslaughter in the case, but the Modisettes also hold Apple partly responsible.

At issue is the fact that the company has a patented method of preventing the potentially distracting app from being used in a vehicle, but has failed to implement it.

Damages are sought against Apple for its “wrongful failure to install and implement the safer, alternative design for which hit sought a patent in December 2008 ... to lock out the ability of drivers to utilise the FaceTime application on the Apple iPhone while driving a motor vehicle”, says the complaint as reproduced by Courthouse News.

Apple’s possession of a patented technology that would lock FaceTime when the phone was inside a vehicle moving at speed shows the company was aware that the application was likely to be dangerous, the lawsuit alleges, and the failure to implement that technology was “a substantial factor in causing” the family’s injuries and Moriah’s death.

The complaint was filed on December 23. Apple was yet to respond to the lawsuit as of Saturday January 31, according to the Associated Press.

Family sues Apple over FaceTime’s role in fatal car crash