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Product liability at issue in distracted driving litigation against Apple

Last time, we began looking at the topic of distracted driving, and particularly at the growing pressure being put on cell phone manufacturers to include software on their products to lock out phone functions that commonly lead to distracted driving, such as texting. As we noted, this pressure is coming both from federal regulators and is being felt in the courts.

In support of the litigation our in California, plaintiffs say there is documentation that Apple had already patented technology at the time of the crash—since 2014, actually—which is capable of preventing texting while driving, but chose not to include it in its products. The fact that the technology existed at all, they say, shows that the company foresaw the possibility of its products causing distracted driving accidents. 

It isn’t clear how far the case, and others like it, will proceed. It is not currently industry standard to include automatic lock-out technology on cell phones. Manufacturers say the technology is unreliable, but they certainly also have a financial disincentive to implement such technology. It is possible that the only way to effectively address this disincentive will be to require all manufacturers to implement the technology.

Different states have different laws when it comes to determining liability for defective products, and industry standard can play a different role in establishing liability depending on the state. Here in Kentucky, one of the legal presumptions in product liability cases is that a product is not defective if the design, methods of manufacture, and testing “conformed to the generally recognized and prevailing standards or the state of the art in existence at the time the design was prepared, and the product was manufactured.”

In our next post, we’ll look a bit more at this point, as well as some other aspects of Kentucky product liability law.

Source: Kentucky Revised Statutes, Section 411.310

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