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Suing Apple for Missing Driver Mode

Should your smartphone shut off texting or other features if it detects you are driving? Would you at least like the option to reduce distracted driving by locking out notifications? One family says, by not implementing its patent for so-called driver mode, Apple caused a fatal car accident.

Distracted driving is a growing problem in America. While there have been all kinds of distractions over the years, smartphones present a special challenge for multi-tasking drivers. By taking drivers’ eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off their driving, cell phones create a three-fold danger to motorists.

Apple’s Patent for Driver Mode Lock-Out Mechanism

Apple has known about this risk for a while. In 2008 the smartphone manufacturer applied for a patent describing “a lock-out mechanism to prevent operation of one or more functions of handheld computing devises by drivers when operating vehicles” like texting or video chatting. Essentially, driver mode.

Now one family has filed a lawsuit claiming that Apple’s “failure to design, manufacture, and sell the Apple iPhone 6 Plus with the patented, safer, alternative design technology” was a substantial factor in the car crash that killed their daughter and injured the rest of the family.

In 2014, James and Bethany Modisette and their children were injured when another car hit them. The driver of that car was using Apple’s FaceTime video chat app at the time of the crash. The family says that because Apple knew of the danger but didn’t do anything to prevent it, the company is liable for the crash.

Making Auto Accidents a Product Liability Issue

One commentator calls the product liability claim “bold” saying:

“The premise of the case itself is shaky at best — suing a company for not implementing a patent that it holds is an inversion of the standard patent-troll playbook. Usually, patent trolls hold many dormant patents and sue anyone actively manufacturing something that might infringe on it. In this case, someone is suing a company for not implementing its patents.”

This kind of innovative legal theory may be necessary to crack the distracted driving puzzle. Some researchers believe that cell phones are psychologically addicting. Even well-meaning drivers face temptation to answer the call of a text or notification.

The lawsuit may well have been prompted by the Department of Transportation’s recent voluntary guidelines, which call on smartphone makers to implement a distraction-free “Driver Mode”. Nothing in the government plan makes the development of the feature mandatory. But if the Modisette’s lawsuit is successful it may push Apple, Samsung, Google, and other smartphone makers to take the recommendations more seriously.

David Christensen is an auto accident attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He helps the victims of distracted driving accidents recover from drivers and their insurance companies. If you have been seriously injured by a distracted driver, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.