On the night of Christmas Eve in 2014, Garrett Wilheim crashed into the back of a car that held the Modisette family while he was using FaceTime and driving. Five-year-old Moriah and her father James had to be extracted from the destroyed vehicle. Both were left in critical condition following the accident, but while James survived Moriah later died from her injuries at a local children’s hospital.
The Modisette family decided to sue Apple and got a lawyer, alleging that the responsibility for the crash rested on the company’s shoulders. Apple had patented technology for the iPhone that could detect and disable certain distracting features when users were driving. However, this technology was not included on the iPhone 6 Wilheim was using when he caused one of the approximately 6 million car accidents that occur in the United States every year.
The lawsuit claims that Apple should pay for damages. While total property damage costs from car accidents in 2010 totaled $76.1 billion and the Modisette’s vehicle was certainly damaged, their lawsuit seeks compensation for the loss of life and severe injuries they sustained.
Apple filed the patent at the center of this lawsuit about 10 years ago, in December 2008. In April 2014, Apple did receive the patent for technology that would have disabled features like FaceTime while the user was driving, but it never actioned the patent. The legal argument revolved around whether or not Apple had an obligation to enable this feature in the iPhone models that followed the year it received the patent.
The Modisette family filed their lawsuit against Apple one day before the second anniversary of the crash in December 2016. The suit alleges that iPhones have the ability to tell how fast a phone is traveling through GPS and built-in accelerometers, yet Wilheim’s iPhone 6 did not disable his ability to use FaceTime while he was traveling at full highway speeds. This feature is so important for all vehicles, and especially for those like the 2016 Hyundai Genesis Coupe that can accelerate from 0 mph to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, the lawsuit states that the iPhone without the disabling feature should never have been sold.
Approximately seven months ago, in May 2018, a court dismissed the Modisette’s case against Apple. This sent the case to the appeals court, but they agreed with the earlier decision. The appeals court determined that although Apple had the patent, it had no obligation of duty of care to the Modisette family. The court also stated that the individual actions of iPhone users did not fall under Apple’s responsibility and that its design of the iPhone was not a proximate cause of the injuries the family endured.
Although Apple was not found responsible for the fatal crash, Wilheim has been charged with manslaughter. His case is still making its way through the system as officials attempt to retrieve data from his iPhone, which was found in the aftermath of the crash with FaceTime still running.