In a recent case, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a Texas personal injury claim against Apple. The plaintiff alleged that a driver’s “neurobiological response” to a text message notification caused a fatal car crash.
According to the facts alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint, a text message came in that the at-fault driver looked at while driving on the highway. When the driver received the text message, she looked down at her phone to read the message. In doing so, she averted her eyes from the road. When she looked back up at the road, it was too late, and her car crashed into another car, which had two adults and a child inside. The two adults were killed and the child was seriously injured.
The victims’ family sued Apple, the manufacturer of the phone, claiming that Apple was liable under the theories of negligence and products liability. The plaintiffs claimed that, although Apple was aware of the dangers of texting while driving and had obtained a patent for a lock-out mechanism for texting while driving, the company did not put the lock-out mechanism in any version of the at-fault driver’s phone. The plaintiffs claimed that Apple was liable because the receiving of text messages triggers “an unconscious and automatic, neurobiological compulsion to engage in texting behavior.” The plaintiffs also claimed that Apple failed to warn customers about the dangers of texting while driving. Apple filed a motion to dismiss, and a federal court granted the motion. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Fifth Circuit’s Decision
The issue before the Fifth Circuit was “whether, under Texas law, a driver’s neurobiological response to a cell phone notification can be the cause in fact of a car crash.” The court noted that no Texas case had addressed whether a smartphone manufacturer could be held liable for a user’s conduct based on the user’s neurobiological response to the phone. Thus, the case presented an issue of first impression.
The court explained that in Texas, negligence and products liability claims both require plaintiffs to prove causation. In a negligence claim, a plaintiff is required to establish proximate cause, which consists of two elements: cause in fact and foreseeability. The court further explained that cause in fact means that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in producing the plaintiff’s injury. The court analogized the case to dram shop cases, in which businesses can be held responsible for injuries caused by intoxicated patrons. The court held that dram shop cases were distinguishable because the state passed laws making businesses responsible and because the dangers of drinking and driving were being recognized earlier on than the dangers of texting while driving. Therefore, the court decided that a smartphone’s notification was not a crucial factor in a cell phone user’s conduct. Apple could therefore not be held liable for the accident. The court held that holding a smartphone manufacturer in this case “would entail an impermissible innovation or extension of state law.”
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If you’ve sustained an injury in a Texas vehicle accident, you could be entitled to monetary compensation. The personal injury attorneys at Carabin Shaw have been fighting for the rights of accident victims for over 25 years. We have over 200 years of collective experience in personal injury law and are dedicated exclusively to advocating for accident victims’ rights. We stand up for victims against insurance companies and are prepared to take a case all the way to trial and beyond if an insurance company wrongfully refuses to honor or resolve your claim. For a complimentary consultation call 1-800-862-1260.
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