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Apple, iPhones and distracted driving: Why Apple isn't on a hook

Product liability laws often can be used to attach blame for a terrible accident to a bigger company or corporation instead of just to the end user that caused the accident.

Financially, that makes sense -- it puts the burden of paying for the accident on the party with the deepest pockets. Legally, it makes sense because companies are expected to put out products that are safe to use.

An "unsafe" product is anything that is badly made, has significant design flaws, is marketed so that it encourages the use of the item in a way that's inherently dangerous or there's some obvious danger that the manufacturer could easily make safer without that change putting an undue burden on the company.

In other words, if a relatively easy and cheap fix can make an unsafe product safe again, a company should make that cheap-and-easy design fix instead of slapping a warning label on the device and hoping for best.

That was the legal theory a California plaintiff relied on when he sued Apple for not installing technology on its iPhone that would prevent drivers from sending text messages. Apple had put in a patent application on a "lock-out" device in 2008, which would essentially accomplish that task. The plaintiff claimed Apple was thus alert to the potential misuse of the iPhone -- and the likely tragic results, such as the death of the plaintiff's son due to distracted driving by a teenager using the iPhone to send a text while driving. Further, the plaintiff claimed Apple had the fix for the problem -- it just didn't use it.

The judge, however, disagreed about Apple's responsibility. Sending text messages is not actually a risky task -- unless someone chooses to neglect his or her obligation to stay focused on the road.

While this case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it can't be brought again, Apple is still facing similar issues in other courts; however, this ruling may set the stage for other courts to say there is simply too big of a gap between Apple's actions and the individual and negligent choices made by the users of its products.

Car accidents can be complicated claims and sometimes involve far greater issues than an individual may realize at first. An experienced can provide advice and guidance if you've been injured by a negligent driver.

Source:, "Court throws out lawsuit blaming lack of texting 'lock-out' technology in iPhone caused car accident," Malcolm Owen, Oct. 25, 2017

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