Texting While Driving Solution: Hold Phone Maker Liable For Crashes Caused?

Two Texas-Based Lawsuits Attempt Uphill Battle

Texting from behind the wheel has reached epidemic proportions, with 53% of drivers admitting to this dangerous practice in a recent poll.

Don’t think this is a problem? More than 35,000 drivers died in 2015 in collisions, a huge 10 1/2 percent rise over the year before. And the alarming 2016 number is predicted to be 14% higher by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.

Still don’t think this affects you? The chances of dying in a crash in the U.S. are 1.3% — the highest rate in the industrialized world. By comparison, this rate is over six times that in Norway and Sweden, which have snowy/icy road conditions much of the year.

We know that rampant cell phone use is often responsible for automobile “accidents” in America. Many countries ban texting while driving and fine offenders heavily.

So what about holding the companies and carriers creating this epidemic accountable? Just like other corporations, should Apple, Samsung, AT&T and Verizon be held responsible for the damages caused by their products and services?

This is the argument at least two families have made to achieve justice after losing loved ones in distracted driving accidents. Families of these victims have filed products liability lawsuits against Apple claiming the corporation was negligent in selling a product it knew would be used while driving and cause injury to others.

Two women killed and young boy paralyzed by texting driver

In 2013 a texting driver, Ashley Kubiak, 21, was speeding in a Dodge Ram pickup when she crashed into and killed a grandmother and another family member and rendered a seven year old body paraplegic in Henderson in East Texas. Adding to this tragedy, the young man had survived leukemia. Kubiak was convicted of negligent manslaughter charges and now keeps her cell phone in her back seat when she drives, a condition of her probated sentence.

A lawsuit filed in the Tyler division of the Eastern District of Texas federal court, Meador v. Apple Inc., alleges that a safer design alternative was available to Apple. A “lockout” device patent was owned by the giant technology company. Here is the amended complaint: 2017-01-09 Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint

Dr. David Greenfield, the director of the Center for Internet and Technological Addiction, filed an affidavit equating cell phone use with gambling. He found that our phone carriers know that texting is addictive and that cell phone use releases a neurochemical called dopamine. The ping sound is almost impossible not to respond to, he wrote.

Apple filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit which a magistrate judge granted in August. The final dismissal is under review by the court.

Young girl killed by driver using FaceTime’s video

North of Dallas, a five year old girl was killed on Christmas Eve 2014 when a young driver named Garrett Wilhelm crashed his SUV into her family’s vehicle that had slowed. The negligent driver was chatting on FaceTime as he drove on I-35 at a speed of at least 65 MPH before the crash. In late December, Modisette v. Apple, Inc. was filed in state court in Santa Clara, California where Apple is headquartered. An answer is not due yet.

Obviously, dismissal will be requested after removal to federal court. The petition is similar to the one above. The case number is 16CV304364.

Products liability litigation often prompts corporations to make safer products. And here there are patents and apps that could prevent texting while driving. But no cell phone company or carrier wants to be the first to implement them, fearing the loss of profit. AT&T does promote a free app called Drivemode which prevents texts, but few drivers use it.

Officials usually would be demanding an immediate solution to such a serious problem. And often the manufacturers and distributors would be held liable for the injuries their product caused in product liability lawsuits.

Drivers in Texas are not going to stop on this dangerous practice on their own. And our state lawmakers refuse to pass a law that would discourage the practice. We are one of only four states in the country that still allow texting while driving.

The leading cause of the spike in traffic collision deaths is identifiable: drivers are texting. The solution to this nightmare won’t happen until the courts and legislature step up and curb this destructive behavior.

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