Family Sues Apple Blaming FaceTime For Daughter's Death In Car Crash

The parents of a five-year-old girl who lost her life in a car accident involving another motor vehicle in which the driver was using Apple's FaceTime app have filed a lawsuit against the Cupertino outfit. Filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, the lawsuit holds Apple accountable for the girl's death for not utilizing technology that would prevent people from using FaceTime while operating a vehicle, or at the very least issue a warning as to the potential hazards.

"Plaintiffs allege Apple Inc.'s failure to design, manufacture, and sell the Apple iPhone 6 Plus with the patented, safer, alternative design technology already available to it that would automatically lock-out or block users from utilizing Apple Inc.'s FaceTime appication while driving a motor vehicle at highway speed, and failure to warn users that the product was likely to be dangerous when used or misused in a reasonably foreseeable manner and/or instruct on the safe usage of this and similar applications, rendered the Apple iPhone 6 defective when it left defendant Apple Inc.'s possession, and were a substantial factor in causing plaintiff's injuries and decedent's death." the lawsuit states.

Apple iPhone 6 Plus

James Modisette, the father of the deceased daughter, was traveling southbound on Interstate I-35W in the family's Toyota Camry when the accident occurred. His wife, Bethany Modisette, occupied the front passenger seat. Their five-year-old daughter, Moriah, was in a booster seat behind James while their other minor child, Isabella, sat next to her in the right passenger seat. The lawsuit says all four occupants were properly restrained with seatbelts.

Tragedy struck when Garrett Wilhelm, another motorist who was also traveling southbound at the time, did not see that police activity had caused traffic to slow and stop in the southbound lands due to another accident. James Modisette slowed his vehicle. Moments later Wilhelm plowed his Toyota 4Runner into the Modisette's car, severely injuring James and Moriah.

The two had to be extracted from the badly crumpled Camry by emergency workers and were then flown to local hospitals. James survived the ordeal but Moriah's injuries proved fatal.

Wilhelm told police that he had been using FaceTime at the time of the accident. Rather than place the lion's share of the blame on Wilhelm for driving distracted, the Modisette family believes Apple should be held accountable for not implementing available technology to prevent these sort of events. According to the lawsuit, Apple had the ability to use GPS tracking to determine how fast a vehicle is traveling and to turn off FaceTime when it detects highway speeds.

Cases like this could set an important precedent going forward. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently said that smartphone apps were responsible for the largest spike in U.S. vehicular fatalities in 50 years in 2015. Then in the first six months of 2016 alone, highway deaths tallied 17,775, a 10.4 percent rise compared to the same period a year prior.

Distracted Driving

As to situations like this one, the Modisette family isn't alone in wanting smartphone makers to implement technologies that could prevent accidents. The NHTSA is pushing for smartphone OEMs to include a driver mode with a simplified interface, the latest in a growing collection of voluntary guidelines designed to reduce driver distraction caused by mobile devices.

"NHTSA has long encouraged drivers to put down their phones and other devices, and just drive," NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind said. "With driver distraction one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities, we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that mobile devices are designed to keep drivers’ eyes where they belong—on the road."

The Modisette family is seeking economic and punitive damages.