Apple has been the subject of several distracted driving cases over the past few years. Now, Apple faces another lawsuit – this time, it is a class-action suit against the tech giant for prioritizing profits over public safety interests.
Apple is still in the midst of its lawsuit for the death of a five-year-old due to a driver who was using FaceTime at the time of the incident. In the new class-action suit, a driver was rear-ended by another driver texting on an iPhone.
What makes this lawsuit interesting is that the victim is not seeking monetary damages for his back injury. Instead, the victim wants to hold the company accountable for not using a lock-out feature on phones to prevent distracted driving.
Apple holds a patent for a lock-out feature, which is why the plaintiff feels that he has a case against the company. This class action and the other lawsuit both blame Apple for not implementing the lock-out feature that could prevent a driver from being distracted while using an Apple device. The lawsuit also requests that the court issue an injunction against the company selling any new phones in the state without installing the lockout feature.
Apple has had the lockout technology since 2008 but has not yet implemented it (almost seven years later). Apple was officially granted a patent for the technology in 2014, but it has never been used in devices. Therefore, the lawsuit asks Apple to update phones already purchased and provide the lockout feature on future models.
Distracted driving is a big concern for the country right now. It is considered a major public health and safety issue. With smartphone technology continuing to evolve, makers of these devices should be held accountable in some way for the distractions they knowingly cause.
The United States Department of Transportation estimates that texting and driving are six times more dangerous than drunk driving. They estimate that 1.5 million drivers are texting while using their vehicles at any given moment in the country.
Also, the National Safety Council has said that texting and driving cause 26 percent of accidents in the country, and 500,000 accidents alone happened in California where Apple has a market share of 40 percent.
Like most states, Connecticut does have laws on texting and driving. All cellphone use in the state is prohibited, including hands-free use, for Connecticut bus drivers and new drivers.
However, adults over the age of 18 can use a hands-free device to talk on their phones while driving. Those who are considered “novice drivers,” or individuals under 18, cannot use their phones at all – including hands-free use.
For texting, there is a driver-wide ban. Therefore, no driver can text, send, or read any messages on their mobile phone while operating a vehicle. The state has deployed strict penalties for those who choose to drive while distracted; therefore, those who are distracted and cause an accident could not only face a civil lawsuit but jail time.
The issue, however, is proving the fact that the driver was using a phone at the time of the accident. Law enforcement does not always see drivers using phones, so the laws are hard to enforce. People can also deny that they were texting and driving when asked. After an accident, they are not likely to admit that they were texting and driving.
Police officers are prohibited by search and seizure laws to take drivers’ phones to see if they were texting and driving. Instead, they would have to get a warrant. Because warrants are time-consuming and costly for the police departments to conduct, the officer will typically take the driver’s word that he or she was not distracted.
Some may scoff at the idea of holding a manufacturer responsible for the operator’s actions. However, personal injury cases are not like criminal cases. In this instance, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, but that threshold is much lower than it would be for a criminal court prosecutor.
Instead, the burden of proof means that the plaintiff or their personal injury attorney must show through a preponderance of evidence that Apple was negligent in some way. To do this, the plaintiff must prove that:
Some feel that Apple is not using its lockout feature because the company’s market share would decrease. After all, consumers are less likely to purchase a phone that locks them out when it detects driving. Some think that Apple fears more consumers would use Android-based phones if Apple were to implement the technology, and the plaintiffs in the recent personal injury lawsuit allege this very thought.
If the plaintiffs are successful in this case, Apple’s injunction could lead to other manufacturers – such as Motorola, Samsung, and LG – to install a lockout feature on their phones to avoid liability. After all, if the Apple suit is successful, that opens the door to future similar lawsuits against other companies.
In 2016, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued voluntary guidelines which called for manufacturers of cellphones to create safety features that lock drivers out of their phones while driving. These guidelines were strictly voluntary, but the NHTSA guidelines, paired with the outcome of this lawsuit, could change laws on distracted driving and cellphone use for good.
Apple’s lawsuit is a case of product liability and the manufacturer’s failure to warn the public.
Extending liability to Apple is not unheard of. Manufacturers can be held responsible for the dangers associated with their products, because all manufacturers have a duty to warn the public about the danger or potential danger of products.
Using the Apple lawsuit as an example, Apple has a duty to create warning labels or indications to the public that include:
Most product liability lawsuits based on the failure to warn do not involve smartphones, but the law does still apply to this particular case. After all, Apple knew there was a risk for injury or accident, which is why it patented the lockout technology. However, it failed to warn the public about those potential risks, even though a risk for accident or death was known.
Warnings must be clear and specific to the threat or harm. They must also be placed where a user could see them easily. Most products come with large orange warning labels, but on a smartphone or other device, the warning could be a bright pop-up message or other type of reminder.
There are no specifics on how the warnings must be displayed other than that they must be visible, easy to read, and comprehensible. That is why many product manufacturers now offer warning labels in multiple languages, to protect against a failure to warn lawsuit.
The issue for Apple and other manufacturers is determining if a warning label is required. Most companies add warning labels to products regardless of whether there is a danger to using them, though warnings are not always required.
A company is, however, required to include a warning label or notification if:
“Reasonable use” and “obvious” are terms that are not defined. After all, what is reasonable to some is not to others.
Most people know that it is illegal to text and drive in the state of Connecticut; therefore, it is obviously not responsible to use a phone while driving. For some, the danger of using the device while driving may not be obvious; if so, a lockout or warning label could be helpful in avoiding further accidents. Those who know that it is against the law to text and drive often know that it is also dangerous to do so.
Consumers are responsible for their actions. Consumers must drive safely on the road, and use their phones when appropriate. Therefore, Apple is likely to argue that it is not responsible for the reckless behavior of its users, because the consumers using those devices have a duty of care owed to the public.
As one can see, the laws surrounding this case are complex.
Ultimately, the outcome of the Apple lawsuit will come down to the preponderance of evidence, and whether the plaintiff can show that Apple: i) knew there was a danger, ii) ignored that danger, and iii) continued to operate for profits rather than public safety.
Whether the driver was using an Apple device or engaged in another form of distraction, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and damages. Distracted driving is a form of negligence, and Connecticut laws allow you to hold negligent drivers responsible for their actions.
Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC today to schedule a no-obligation consultation with our distracted driving lawyers.