Could Product Liability Laws Hold the Makers of a Phone App Liable for Its Misuse By Drivers?

4 January 2017
 Categories: , Blog

One out of every four car accidents in the U.S. involves someone texting and driving, and texting while driving is considered six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk. While statistical information about FaceTime, an app that lets people communicate visually on their cell phones, isn't available, the odds are very good that it has similar issues.

Is it the driver's lack of self-control that's to blame for a resulting car accident and someone's injuries if they use a cell phone for text, calls, or a visual chat with a friend? Or is it the manufacturer of the app that lets them, assuming that manufacturer could somehow adjust the programming to keep people from driving and chatting on FaceTime at the same time? Here's what you should know.

Victims are attempting to hold Apple liable based on product-liability laws.

The victims of a car crash say that Apple has had the technology available to stop users from operating FaceTime while driving since 2008 and that changing the app would not be unduly difficult for them. This is the essence of a product-liability lawsuit over defects in design. A design defect is something that causes a foreseeable risk to either users or others even when the product is used as directed. In addition, plaintiffs usually have to prove that the manufacturer had the ability to fix the defect without being economically burdened by the fix and without changing the product's intended purpose.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Apple aren't exactly clear about how they intend to prove all these things, but it's likely that they'll at least try to show that a modification is possible to the app that registers the speed that someone is travelling—much like the Pokemon GO app does. While that would still be possible to override, it would at least make the driver aware that he or she shouldn't be driving and using the app at the same time.

Negligence is based on the theory that the manufacturer should have known the dangers.

The plaintiffs will also have to prove that Apple was negligent. Negligence, in this case, means proving that they were reasonably aware that their product was likely to be misused. More than likely, the plaintiffs will point to the numerous examples of people using FaceTime while driving, just like people have used Snapchat, Pokemon Go, and other apps. It may be difficult for Apple to deny that they couldn't have anticipated the app's misuse this way.

Whether or not these plaintiffs will be successful remains to be seen. If you've been in an accident involving distracted driving, however, make your attorney aware early on about your suspicions in case something you suspect becomes an important part of your case.

Talk to firms such as Owen Law Firm to get started.