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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Distracted Driving and the Liability of Cell Phone Manufacturers

One of my first jobs as a new lawyer in the early 1990s was representing insurance companies as an associate for a big law firm in product liability lawsuits. The injuries and deaths caused by ubiquitous machines like vehicles, presses and cranes were often horrific.

In some of the suits, the evidence involved whether safety mechanisms purposely had been subverted by the machine operator causing injury. Causation, an element of any tort suit, was the most litigated issue.

Should cell phone manufacturers be required to implement newly developed technology that can block drivers from sending or receiving texts on their phones? The family of a fatally injured distracted driving victim recently filed a lawsuit raising this causation issue.

Apple is named as a defendant in the suit. The pleadings reference a telematics patent granted to Apple that would lock-out a driver's ability to manipulate the phone while driving.

The technology uses sensors that determine whether the phone is moving and its exact location. If the phone is within the space of the driver's seat, certain functions, like texting, are disabled.

Although the patent was granted in 2014, it is unknown whether the tech giant has developed a product with the technology. In its 2008 application for the patent, Apple stated:
Texting while driving has become so widespread that it is doubtful that law enforcement will have any significant effect on stopping the practice. Teens understand that texting while driving is dangerous, but this is often not enough motivation to end the practice.
Some product liability experts have compared cell phone manufacturers to manufacturers of high-capacity magazine guns; they could choose not to manufacture those products but do so anyway.

Not all legal experts, however, agree with the concept of regulating the cell phone industry. The dangers of using a cell phone while driving is squarely placed with the individual driver.

Accordingly, the products liability lawsuit in Texas will likely be dismissed in a summary judgment for a fatal lack of causation. Regardless of the liability of the cell phone companies, we here at the Law Blogger urge you not to text while driving; let's keep everyone safe on our roadways.

Post #560

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