Apple Sued for Not Using iPhone Safety Fix It Patented
By Olivia Solon . Updated January 24, 2017.
A California man has launched a class-action lawsuit against Apple for failing to introduce an iPhone safety feature that would prevent people from texting while driving.
Julio Ceja, from Orange County in California, was rear-ended by a driver who was allegedly distracted while using her phone. According to the complaint, Ceja was at a traffic light when he saw a driver behind him “engaged in using her phone instead of paying attention to the road in front of her”.
“The driver slammed into Julio’s vehicle, causing damage to the vehicle, and injuring Ceja’s back. When the driver exited the vehicle after the accident, she still had her iPhone in hand, startled that she had just caused an accident.”
Ceja is not seeking monetary damages but hopes to force Apple to implement the lockout mechanism or have sales of the iPhone halted in California. The lawsuit proposes a class of every person in California -- more than 39 million people.
“Each of these residents’ lives are placed in danger every single day as a result of Apple’s failure to install ‘lock-out devices’ on their iPhones,” the complaint said.
“This is a high-stakes litigation for Apple,” said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. “In effect, the lawsuit seeks to make Apple the financial guarantor for all California victims of car accidents caused while the driver was texting on an iPhone. The damages associated with such liability could be a very large number.”
The case, filed in Los Angeles superior court on 17 January, follows a similar suit filed in Santa Clara superior county court late December. In that instance, a couple sued the iPhone maker after a driver, allegedly using FaceTime, collided with their car, resulting in the death of their five-year-old daughter. Bethany and James Modisette argued that Apple should be held accountable for the accident because it had not introduced the same safety featured, patented in 2014.
The patent describes a lockout mechanism that disables the mobile device from performing certain functions, such as texting and video calls, while behind the wheel. The patent filing acknowledges the dangers of distracted driving and highlights how hard it is for law enforcement to police.
“Texting while driving has become so widespread it is doubtful that law enforcement will have any significant effect on stopping the practice,” Apple wrote in the filing.
As with many patents filed by the company, Apple chose not to introduce the technology to its iPhones.
In a statement, one of Cejas’ attorneys, Jonathan Michaels, said: “Legislating against drivers will unfortunately not solve the problem. The relationship consumers have with their phones is just too great, and the ability to slide under the eye of the law is just too easy. Embedding lock-out devices is the only solution.”
The cases are unlikely to progress far, experts say, because it’s not clear whether Apple’s technology is feasible, for instance in how it would distinguish between a driver and a passenger. The fact that it hasn’t been implemented suggests such details haven’t been ironed out.
However, as Stanford law professor Nora Freeman Engstrom told the Guardian earlier this month, with respect to the Modisettes’ complaint: “If the plaintiffs were to prevail, the case could have sweeping implications, not just for handheld devices, but for navigation systems, car radios -- potentially even fast food purchased at drive-through windows.”
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.