Last month, a lawsuit blaming Apple for a child’s death in a car crash was dismissed by the California Appeals Court 6th Appellate District in Santa Clara County. The case was initially dismissed in May 2018, by a California Superior Court judge, which lead to the appeal in discussion. Prior to the latest dismissal, lawyers for both sides argued the case, and the unanimous opinion of the three-judge panel was delivered just a few days later.
The accident, which occurred on December 24, 2014, claimed the life of five-year-old Moriah Modisette of Cross Roads, Texas. After crashing into the back of the Modisette family vehicle, Garrett Wilhelm told police that he was using FaceTime on his iPhone 6 when he hit the other vehicle. Police also found Wilhelm’s intact phone still running the FaceTime application after the accident. Wilhelm was subsequently indicted on a manslaughter charge in connection with the case. His criminal case is scheduled for trial next summer.
Wilhem, age 20 at the time of the accident, was on his phone when his vehicle went up and over the Modisette family car, which had stopped for a traffic jam on the freeway. The Modisette family vehicle was so badly damaged that Moriah and her father, James, had to be extracted from it—both in critical condition. Moriah subsequently died as a result of her injuries at a local children’s hospital.
Two years after the accident, the Modisette family filed a lawsuit against Apple, Inc., alleging negligence and strict products liability, among other claims. The complaint alleged that Apple had the ability to lock out certain applications when the device was in motion but chose not to build that capability into the iPhone 6. Further, the family alleged that Apple’s decision to offer the “Do Not Disturb” capabilities in later-model phones underscored the point that the company knew the risks of distracted driving. The trial court sustained Apple’s demurrer to the complaint and dismissed the action. The court found that each of the causes of action cited “fails, as a matter of law, to establish either the element of duty or of causation.”
In their appeal, the Modisettes contended that the trial court was erroneous in finding that Apple did not owe a duty of care, and asserted that the risk created by Apple’s failure to implement the lockout technology was both foreseeable and unreasonable. The family also argued that Apple’s conduct and the resulted “defect” in Wilhelm’s iPhone combined with Wilhem’s conduct to cause the accident. The appellate court, though, found that the Modisette’s claims for negligence fail because Apple did not owe the family a duty of care. The court based its decision on two considerations. First, the court held that the alleged connection between the injuries and Apple’s design of the iPhone 6 is insubstantial. Secondly, the court determined that the burden to Apple and the resulting consequences to the community that could come from such a duty is too great.
The finding of the appellate court means that Apple has the right to recover its court costs from the family. There has been no comment made by either party.