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Interesting Distracted Driving Cases: Are App Developers Liable?

Potential Liability In Distracted Driving Cases

Device and app designers are potentially liable parties in distracted driving cases. This is a developing area of the law and much of the legal advice will arise from new case law coming out of the courts in North America.

Examples:

  • In 2014, Uber was sued when one of its drivers killed a six-year old pedestrian. The plaintiffs claimed that Uber contributed to its drivers’ distraction by requiring them to manually input data in its app to accept fares while driving (see Liu v. Uber Tech., Inc No. CGC-14-536979 (Calif.Super.Ct.San Francisco Cnty. filed Jan 27, 2014 – a confidential settlement was reached in 2015. Because of the case, Uber changed its policies to provide insurance coverage for crashes its drivers caused while logged into the app, even when no passenger was in the vehicle).
  • In 2015, SnapChat and an allegedly distracted driver were sued under a theory that SnapChat encouraged drivers to travel at excessive speeds to take selfies using the app’s “speed filter,” which imprints the vehicles speed on a photo or video – in this case, allegedly more than 100mph. (see Maynard v. McGee & SnapChat, Inc. No. 16-SV-89 (Ga. Spalding Cnty. filed April 19, 2015).
  • Apple was also sued in 2015 after a driver texting on an iPhone caused a crash that resulted in two deaths and a child’s paralysis. The plaintiff alleged that Apple should have incorporated a “lock-out mechanism” – for which it filed a patent – to prevent texting while driving. (See Meador v. Apple Inc., No 6:15-cv-715-MHS-KNM (E.D. Texas filed July 28, 2015)
  • To date, courts dismissing cases filed against parties other than the distracted driver have focused on the lack of foresee-ability of drivers using cell phones and causing crashes. But, with the proliferation of these devices and increased danger on the road, courts may look at foresee-ability and causation issues different going forward.

Source: “The Landscape of Distracted Driving” by Joel D. Feldman, The Verdict, Issue 152, Spring 2017 pages 42 to 45

 

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