A Texas family is suing Apple, alleging in a lawsuit that the company knew its FaceTime messaging service enabled distracted driving yet failed to take preventative steps to lock out users behind the wheel. As a result, they argue, a FaceTiming driver crashed into the back of their car — killing their five-year-old daughter.
Court House News picked up the lawsuit, and details the tragic December 24, 2014, wreck. James and Bethany Modisette were driving with their two daughters on I-35 north of Dallas when James braked the family car due to an accident up ahead. A driver rear-ended the Modisettes with his Toyota 4Runner at 65 miles per hour — killing five-year-old Moriah Modisette. The driver, Garret Wilhem, told police he was on FaceTime at the time of the crash, and officers found his phone in the car with FaceTime still engaged.
James was left in critical condition by the crash, and Bethany and the surviving daughter were both also seriously injured.
The suit alleges that Apple was negligent in failing to block FaceTime use by drivers, and that it had the means to do so — pointing to a 2008 patent application filed by the company for a “Driver handheld computing device lock-out” mechanism to “disable the ability of a handheld computing device to perform certain functions, such as texting, while one is driving.” The patent was granted in April of 2014.
“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 alleges in the complaint.
This suit calls to mind a similar incident from earlier this year when a Georgia couple sued SnapChat alleging that the company's "speed filter" encouraged a teenager to drive 107 miles per hour — and that the subsequent crash, leaving the man brain damaged, was the result.
The Modisettes are seeking punitive damages and economic damages related to their injuries. The suit was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court this past Friday.