Tuesday, January 03, 2017

A litigious society gone crazy, or taking an irresponsible company to task?

In the ridiculously litigious society that is the United States of America, personal injury lawyers will do whatever they can to hit up a big wealthy company like Apple (not that I have any love for Apple myself). A 5-year old girl died in a car accident after another driver was distracted because he was using Apple's FaceTime video chat app on his iPhone while driving. The girl's parents (or at least their lawyers) are arguing that Apple could have installed a safety feature, which it patented over two years ago, which is designed to discourage people from using FaceTime while driving. In not ding so, they argue, the girl's death was effectively Apple's fault, or it at least represented a "substantial factor" in the injuries sustained by the family and in the girl's death.
Now, while at first blush  this might sound ridiculous to you or me, apparently the court will have to prove that the distracted driver himself was a "superseding cause", otherwise Apple may well be held responsible on the grounds that the company knew that its product could be used illegally or dangerously and deliberately decided not to take available measures against it. The case is complicated by the fact that Texas, where the incident took place, does not have laws banning texting while driving.
So, what initially looked like a ridiculous cash grab is perhaps not quite so simple after all. By taking out that patent in 2014, Apple showed that it knew that its product could be used in an illegal or dangerous manner, and that created an expectation that was not there before. The stupid guy who was using FaceTime while driving suddenly becomes all but irrelevant in the legal equation.

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