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 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 accident occurred Christmas Eve in 2014 near Dallas, when, according to the lawsuit, the Modisettes were 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 because police activity ahead of them on the highway 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 Modisettes’ car, had his attention diverted by his use of the FaceTime app, the suit alleges.
“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 James Modisette and Moriah from the car, the suit says.
James Modisette was in critical condition after the crash. Bethany Modisette and Isabella were taken to a regional medical center to be treated for injuries. Moriah was airlifted to an 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 to begin Feb. 27, the paper reports.
Wilhelm’s lawyer, Ricky Perritt, issued statement reading, “The Wilhelm family offers their thoughts and prayersfor 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.”