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Unused texting safety feature prompts lawsuit against Apple

Accidents caused by distracted drivers are a serious problem for police and paramedics in Louisiana and across the country, and the federal government has turned to cellphone manufacturers for help. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released proposals for dealing with distracted drivers, and the agency has requested that electronics makers add features to smartphones that would prevent them being used by drivers.

While companies like Motorola and Samsung have yet to respond to NHTSA's request, a lawsuit filed by a group of California residents against Apple Inc. suggests that the company developed a feature that prevents texting while driving in 2008. Apple was granted a patent for it in 2014, but it has never been included in any of the company's popular iPhones. The plaintiffs in the class action case, who were all hurt in accidents caused by distracted drivers, want the feature to be made available and included in all new iPhones sold in California.

The case could hinge on whether or not a jury can be persuaded that rising distracted driving accident rates were a reasonably foreseeable consequence of withholding the smartphone safety feature. Apple's attorneys may have difficulty countering these arguments considering their client controls 40 percent of the U.S. smartphone market and texting while driving has been linked by the National Safety Council to more than a quarter of all motor vehicle accidents around the country.

Litigation filed against major corporations can drag on for years and be ruinously expensive, but cases of this type are often resolved quietly at the negotiating table. Companies that have spent millions building their brand identities are rarely eager to risk losing in open court and clearing the way for a wave of similar claims, and experienced personal injury attorneys could take advantage of this hesitation to negotiate settlement terms that are beneficial to their clients.

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