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Distracted Driving Victims Seek to Hold Cellphone Makers, Wireless Companies Liable

A Texas woman sped down a Texas highway in her pickup truck, scrolling through her iPhone for messages. She was so distracted, court records would later show, that she slammed her truck into a sport utility vehicle. The driver and front seat passenger died instantly. A child passenger in the back seat was left permanently paralyzed. That was in 2013.

These kinds of distracted driving accidents are sadly not all that unusual. However, they are preventable – and not just by the person behind the wheel. A lawsuit filed against Apple in this case alleges the cell phone company had the technology prior to this accident to stop drivers from accessing their phones while the car is in motion. What’s more, the product liability lawsuit alleges, the company, in its application for a patent on that technology, cited the fact that phones are used for texting and texting and driving is a major public health issue and state legislators and local law enforcement officials had not been able to get a handle on the matter.

The driver in this case was later convicted of negligent homicide. She is serving five years on probation. Meanwhile, the families of her victims want accountability. They want to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening to another family. But what are the chances they might actually succeed? What responsibility do cell phone companies have for the actions of their driving customers? 

Apple, along with several other technology and wireless service companies, do have the technology to prevent texting and driving. However, they aren’t using it. Some allow customers to install apps that can prevent it, but those are all voluntary.

These are companies that often urge their customers not to text and drive. They even acknowledge that public education and anti-texting-and-driving laws (such as F.S. 316.305) are not working. One company, AT&T, has even gone so far as to suggest that drivers can’t help themselves because the behavior has addictive qualities. All of this suggests to legal analysts that companies know their product is going to be used for dangerous – even deadly – purposes, but they aren’t doing everything they can to stop it. Some companies have features that can be manually installed to curb texting-and-driving, but ti doesn’t remove the decision from customers to make it mandatory.

Companies say this kind of text-blocking technology is in its infancy and it isn’t reliable. For example, it can’t shut down drivers’ service without also shutting down service to someone seated in the passenger seat or who is riding on a city bus or a train. Another concern is that if one company takes the lead on this, customers will simply switch to competitors.

In the pending federal lawsuit against Apple in the Texas car accident case, documents have been unearthed showing the firm in 2008 filed for a patent (granted two years ago) for technology that could “lock out” the driver’s phone using sensors to show if the devices was both in motion and being used by a driver. In that case, certain functions like texting could be blocked.

Drivers are increasingly using features like Snapchat, Instagram, Pokemon Go or taking “selfies” behind the wheel. Phones are at the center of all of this. Lawsuits like this may determine whether cell phone and wireless companies have a duty to deploy the technology already at their fingertips.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Phone Makers Could Cut Off Drivers. So Why Don’t They? Sept. 24, 2016, By Matt Richtel, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

Florida Traffic Engineers Propose “Diverging Diamond” to Slash Intersection Crashes, Sept. 30, 2016, Orlando Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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