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Distracted Driving Death Prompts Lawsuit against Apple

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A Texas couple's five-year-old daughter died in a car crash that involved a "Facetiming" driver. Now, the couple has filed a class action lawsuit against Apple that alleges its FaceTime app contributed to the fatal accident.

According to the lawsuit, the distracted driver told police he was using the FaceTime app at the time of the crash. The app was still running when police found his iPhone 6.

Plaintiffs James and Bethany Modisette filed suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court on December 23, 2016. The couple argues Apple knew FaceTime and other smartphone apps posed risks to human life and safety when used when driving.

The Modisettes said Apple failed to implement a "lock out" feature that would prevent users from accessing certain apps when driving. They assert negligence, gross negligence, negligent and strict products liability, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and loss of consortium claims.

The class action brings up interesting questions. At what point is the manufacturer of a smartphone app--or any other product that prompts distracted driving--liable? The lawsuit argues Apple was aware of the risks because it patented "lock out" technology in 2008. But it's the driver that chooses to talk, text, or FaceTime behind the wheel.

How to stop distracted driving

In California, it's against the law to use a handheld phone or text when driving. Yet it still happens. In a 2014 California Traffic Safety survey, 61 percent of California drivers surveyed reported they had been hit or nearly hit by driver talking or texting on a cell phone. In 2013, distracted driving accidents killed more than 3,000 people nationwide.

If a $161 ticket and risk of injury or death isn't enough to stop you from talking, texting, or Facetiming when driving, install an app that will block messages and calls.

AT&T's DriveMode blocks both calls and text messages. You can set it up to start running when you drive over 15 miles per hour. It's available for both iOS and Android.

Cellcontrol also blocks incoming calls and texts. The subscription-based service features a device that adheres to your car's windshield. The app blocks calls, texts, and other features while the car is in motion, such as the camera and, presumably, FaceTime. The DriveID device costs $129 for one vehicle. It's available for Android and iOS.

If you are involved in an accident with a distracted driver, contact a personal injury attorney right away. An experienced lawyer will investigate all angles of your case while you focus on your recovery.

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David G. Smith
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