A lawsuit filed in California this week claims Apple is responsible for a fatal crash because the tech giant had a patent to prevent drivers from using the FaceTime app, but failed to install it.
The case stems from an incident on Christmas Eve in 2014, when a driver struck a vehicle at 65 miles per hour occupied by James and Bethany Modisette and their two children along I-35 near Dallas. The driver, according to the complaint, told police he was using the FaceTime app on his iPhone 6 Plus at the time of the crash. Officers found it was still active when they arrived at the scene.
The Modisettes and their daughter, Isabellah, sustained injuries, but the their other child, five-year-old Moriah, died from her injuries at the hospital.
Apple’s involvement stems from the company’s alleged failure to implement technology that, according to the Modisettes’ lawyers, could’ve prevented the crash.
In 2008, the company applied for a patent that would “lock out the ability of drivers to use the ‘FaceTime’ application on the Apple iPhone while using a motor vehicle.” The suit says the patent would’ve prevented or at least warned a motorist about the dangers of the use of FaceTime while traveling in a vehicle.
The U.S. Patent office eventually granted the patent in April 2014. The abstract for the patent reads:
Lock-out mechanisms for driver handheld computing devices. The lock-out mechanisms disable the ability of a handheld computing device to perform certain functions, such as texting, while one is driving. In one embodiment, a handheld computing device can provide a lock-out mechanism without requiring any modifications or additions to a vehicle by using a motion analyzer, a scenery analyzer and a lock-out mechanism. In other embodiments, the handheld computing device can provide a lock-out mechanism with modifications or additions to the vehicle, including the use of signals transmitted by the vehicle or by the vehicle key when engaged with the vehicle.
The body of the patent also included this slightly more detailed description of what the lockout would comprise:
1. A handheld computing device comprising: a motion analyzer configured to detect whether the handheld computing device is in motion beyond a predetermined threshold level; a scenery analyzer configured to determine whether the handheld computing device is located within a safe operating area of a vehicle based on at least one of picture data and video data; and a lock-out mechanism configured to automatically and selectively disable one or more functions of the handheld computing device based on outputs from the motion analyzer and the scenery analyzer.
According to the complaint, which was highlighted by Courthouse News, Apple’s “failure to design, manufacture, and sell the apple iPhone 6 Plus with the patented, safer, alternative design technology already available to it ... [was] a substantial factor in causing plaintiffs injuries and decedent’s death.”
A spokesperson for Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.