News Room

Lawsuit Tests Apple’s Commitment to Consumer Safety

Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck

February 24, 2017

Apple is facing a class action lawsuit after several instances of serious accidents caused by texting on the iPhone while driving. Worse still for the company is that it had technology to prevent texting while driving, but failed to deploy it, placing profits over public safety. Apple has had the technology to prevent texting and driving since 2008, and it was granted a patent for that technology in 2014.

Californian Julio Ceja’s lawsuit seeks to halt all iPhone sales until Apple uses its “lockout” technology. Ceja was rear-ended by a texting driver. He claims that Apple’s failure to be proactive in preventing texting while driving violated California’s consumer protection laws. In his lawsuit, he calls upon a class of the full population of California—over 39 million people. Apple could be liable for hefty damages should the lawsuit hold the company responsible for all car accidents involving distracted driving with an iPhone. Data from the Federal Highway Administration and the California Highway Patrol claimed in the lawsuit puts iPhone-caused car accidents at 52,000 per year in California, and the average death toll is 312.

One of Ceja’s lawyers, Jonathan Michaels, has claimed that further legislation against unsafe driving would be ineffective, as people are too wedded to their phones and can easily evade law enforcement. He believes the only sure solution is mandatory lockout devices.

Ceja’s suit follows that of Bethany and James Modisette, who suffered the loss of their five-year-old daughter when another driver, allegedly distracted by FaceTime, crashed into their car. The Modisettes blamed Apple for not implementing their patented safety technology.

Some reasons Apple has not yet implemented its patent technology may include that the company is working on better technology, but is not yet ready to submit to the patent office; the original technology may be flawed due to being out of date; or Apple may be looking at other companies to release better solutions.

It is not thought by experts that the cases will go far because Apple’s lockout technology is not certain to be foolproof, and even if it were to be implemented, it could just as easily be defeated by those determined to do so.

The suit’s targeting of Apple solely, and not other smartphone manufacturers could cause the company more problems for its bottom line, besides just restitution for the accident victims. A mandatory safety feature may alienate consumers who wish to tempt fate and text while driving anyway. These customers would likely flock to one of Apple’s competitors, who would choose not to use a life-saving, yet cumbersome feature. Indeed, Apple’s year-end 2016 net profits totaled $8.5 billion, in addition to $238 billion in its coffers. Despite the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declaring that driving while texting is six times more dangerous than drinking and driving, Apple may be more motivated by its own financial figures than by the warnings of government agencies.

Should the lawsuit be successful, Stanford law professor Nora Freeman Engstrom warns “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.” With that result, rival companies will likely be on the hook to implement their own lockout devices, diminishing Apple’s concern of not being able to compete with non-lockout phones. But above all, a win for Ceja would send a message: that consumer safety must be the priority of a company, not profit.

Consumer protection laws are designed to ensure the rights of vulnerable consumers in society. The laws are a form of government directive intended to protect the rights of consumers.

If you believe you and many others like you have been somehow injured, cheated, or otherwise harmed by unfair business practices, give us a call and let us help you protect your rights. At Kabateck LLP, we can help you explore all of your options and ultimately achieve for you the maximum compensation for your harm.