Family Sues Apple, Claiming FaceTime Distracted Driver in Crash That Killed 5-Year-Old Daughter

The new iPhone 7 smartphone is displayed inside an Apple store in Los Angeles. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
A Texas couple is suing Apple, claiming that its FaceTime app distracted a driver who rammed into the couple's car, killing their 5-year-old daughter.

Parents James and Bethany Modisette are suing Apple for damages on the basis that the electronics giant failed to install and implement a "safer, alternative design" for FaceTime that would have helped to prevent a driver from using the app while traveling at highway speed, court documents show.

The lawsuit filed Dec. 23 in California Superior Court in Santa Clara County also claims that Apple failed "to warn users that the product was likely to be dangerous when used or misused" or to instruct on its safe usage.

The fatal accident occurred Christmas Eve in 2014 near Dallas, when, according to the lawsuit, the Modisette family was driving in a Toyota Camry, with daughter Moriah, 5, in a booster seat in the left rear passenger seat and her sister, Isabella, next to her in the right rear seat.

The Modisettes had slowed or stopped their car due to police activity ahead of them on the highway that had caused traffic to back up, according to the suit.

Another driver, Garrett Wilhelm, traveling in his Toyota 4Runner in the same direction and behind the Modisette car, allegedly had his attention diverted by his use of the FaceTime app, the suit says.

"As a result of that distraction, his Toyota 4Runner, while traveling at full highway speed (65 mph), struck the Modisette family car from behind, causing it to be propelled forward, rotate, and come to a final rest at an angle facing the wrong direction in the right lane of traffic," the suit says.

Wilhelm's car then "continued its trajectory by rolling up and over the driver's side of the Modisette car," the suit claims.

The crash caused extensive damage to the driver's side of the Modisettes' car, and rescue workers had to extract both the father and 5-year-old Moriah from the car, the suit says.

The father was in critical condition after the crash while the mother and daughter Isabella were taken to a regional medical center to be treated for injuries. Moriah was airlifted to the area children's hospital where she later died from her injuries, according to the suit.

"Wilhelm told police at the scene that he was using FaceTime on his iPhone at the time of the crash, and the police located his iPhone at the crash scene with the FaceTime application still active," the suit claims.

The Modisettes contend in their suit that, "At the time of the collision in question, the iPhone utilized by Wilhelm contained the necessary hardware (to be configured with software) to automatically disable or 'lock-out' the ability to use [FaceTime] ... However, Apple failed to configure the iPhone to automatically ‘lock-out’ the ability to utilize ‘FaceTime’ while driving at highway speeds, despite having the technical capability to do so.”

Wilhelm was indicted on manslaughter charges by a grand jury in Denton County, Texas, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle. He has been out of jail on bail since August, and a jury trial in the case is scheduled for Feb. 27, the Record-Chronicle reports.

Wilhelm’s lawyer, Ricky Perritt, issued the follow statement: "The Wilhelm family offers their thoughts and prayers for the family of the young lady who lost her life in this tragic accident. We are confident that after all the facts are brought out in Court, it will be shown that the use of a cellular device did not contribute and Mr. Wilhelm did not commit a crime ... it was simply an accident."


Texas family blame Apple's FaceTime in suit over fatal crash

A Texas couple whose 5-year-old daughter died in a crash involving a driver who was allegedly using Apple’s FaceTime video chatting app is suing the tech company.

The lawsuit filed this month in Santa Clara Superior Court accuses Apple of not implementing iPhone features that would automatically disable FaceTime based on technology that calculates highway speeds.

Apple hasn’t responded to the lawsuit and didn’t immediately respond to an email Saturday seeking comment.

Moriah Modisette was killed in a 2014 Christmas Eve accident near Dallas. The lawsuit obtained by California television KTLA claims police found FaceTime running on the iPhone of the driver who struck the Modisette family at 65 mph.

The family claims Apple knew the risks of using FaceTime while driving because the company patented “lock-out” technology in 2008.


A man using FaceTime killed a 5-year-old girl in a highway crash. Was Apple to blame?

Buckled in her booster seat in the back of her family’s Toyota Camry, Moriah Modisette got the worst of the crash.

It was the day before Christmas 2014, and Moriah and her family — father James, mother Bethany and older sister Isabella — were in Denton County, Tex., headed south on Interstate 35W.

There was some kind of police activity ahead that brought traffic to a standstill, so James Modisette pressed the brake, bringing the car to a stop in the left lane.

Garrett Wilhelm never saw their brake lights, police believe.

Driving behind the Camry, he was using Apple’s FaceTime video chat application on his iPhone 6 Plus, and slammed into the Camry at full highway speed, says a lawsuit filed by the family, originally obtained by Courthouse News.

The nearly 5,000-pound SUV tore into the Camry, then rode up over the driver’s side.

Everyone was injured, but Moriah and her father were wedged inside and had to be pried out by rescue workers.

“Bethany Modisette and Isabella Modisette visibly and audibly witnessed rescue workers’ grueling efforts to extract James Modisette and Moriah Modisette from the mangled vehicle, as well as … (their) serious and life-threatening injuries and struggles to stay alive,” the lawsuit says.

James Modisette survived. Moriah Modisette was flown to a nearby children’s hospital, but her injuries were too severe and she died there.

Wilhelm’s iPhone survived the crash. When police found it, FaceTime was still running.

Wilhelm was charged with manslaughter in the case, which is working its way through court, according to the Associated Press, but the family thinks the iPhone’s manufacturer, Apple, is also to blame.

At issue is the FaceTime app, which comes preloaded on iPhones and iPads. The Modisettes’ lawsuit says iPhones should detect whether a user is driving a car and disable the attention-consuming video chat app.

In a lawsuit filed a day before the second anniversary of the crash, the family says iPhones have the ability to tell whether the phone is in motion and how fast it’s going, via built-in accelerometers and GPS.

“Yet Defendant Apple, Inc., failed to configure the iPhone 6 Plus to ‘lock-out’ the ability for a driver to utilize (Apple’s) ‘FaceTime’ application, while driving at highway speeds,” the lawsuit says.

The Modisettes’ case is yet another example of drivers’ crashing while distracted by apps on their smartphones.

A motorist playing Pokémon Go on his smartphone crashed into a marked patrol car in Delaware. Another person did it in Baltimore. Last week, a Canadian teenager who crashed his vehicle was charged with texting while driving.

And British government officials are to meet with smartphone manufacturers this year to pressure them to introduce a “drive safe” mode, according to the International Business Times.

Apple did not respond to messages from The Washington Post seeking comment over the weekend.

The company also has not responded to the Modisettes’ lawsuit, according to the AP.

From January to June 2016, highway deaths increased 10.4 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the New York Times. A major cause: the use of apps on Internet-connected smartphones.

Another New York Times story on distracted driving said phone and technology companies argue that such lockout services are unreliable.

“They argue that they cannot shut down a driver’s service without the potential of mistakenly shutting off a passenger’s phone or that of someone riding on a train or bus,” the New York Times said.

In a statement issued for that story, Apple stressed its view that responsibility lies with drivers.

“For those customers who do not wish to turn off their iPhones or switch into Airplane Mode while driving to avoid distractions, we recommend the easy-to-use Do Not Disturb and Silent Mode features,” the statement said.

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