Apple sued over girl’s death at hands of driver ‘distracted’ by FaceTime video call

Five-year-old Moriah Modisette was killed when Garrett Wilhelm allegedly rear-ended her family’s Toyota Camry with his Toyota 4Runner at 65 miles per hour on an interstate in Denton County, Texas in 2014. Now Apple is in Santa Clara County Superior Court fighting a lawsuit by the surviving family members.

Apple is responsible for the girl’s death, her parents and sister alleged in the lawsuit, because Wilhelm had the firm’s FaceTime video-calling app up on his iPhone 6 Plus before and during the “distracted driving” crash — while Apple sat on patented technology that could prevent people from using FaceTime while driving at highway speed.

Apple, the suit said, applied in 2008 for a patent on a “driver handheld computing device lockout” intended to stop texting while driving at highway speed, and should have applied the technology to FaceTime. The lockout could be achieved using the accelerometer and GPS already in phones, suggested the suit, which accused Apple of “gross negligence.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court. Apple did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Wilhelm, 21, was charged with manslaughter, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle.

“Wilhelm, who was 20 at the time, told police he was using his cell phone when the accident occurred,” the paper reported in August 2015. “The call was still active when the phone was located at the accident scene.”

Wilhelm’s jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 27, the paper said.

The lawsuit cites data on increasing mobile-device use by drivers and rising traffic fatalities.

Texas allows adults to use cell phones while driving. The city of Denton, where the crash occurred, had a ban on texting while driving, but it didn’t apply to interstate highways, the Record-Chronicle reported.

The suit was brought by the dead child’s parents, Bethany and James Modisette, and her sister Isabella, all injured in the wreck, James critically. They are seeking unspecified damages, according to the lawsuit filed Dec. 23 and published by Courthouse News Service.

Photo illustration: An iPhone held up in front of the Apple logo. (AFP/Getty Images)


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  • The iSheep

    It’s not Apple’s responsibility, it’s the dipshit’s who was driving! That man is who’s responsible.

  • lnon

    Toyota also has the technology to slow down or stop the car before it is involved in an accident, so why not throw Toyota into the fray as well? Or, better yet, how about we agree that the moron who was driving is responsible for the accident and blame it on poor decision making and irresponsible behavior of the driver. Cars don’t kill people and phones don’t kill people, people kill people.

  • Dave

    This lawsuit is all about a money hungry Texas lawyer looking for a deep pocket to line his own pockets with gold. Apple cannot ban users from FaceTime unless they can develop sensing technology that verifies the user is actually driving the vehicle and poses a danger to others. An algorithm that uses both gyro, global positioning, and face/body/environmental recognition might be able to detect a driver using an app and then disable it until the vehicle is at rest. But it will be hard to develop. Hopefully the Santa Clara County judge will totally get this case as nothing more than a baseless claim, there was nothing Apple could have done. Other companies like Microsoft Skype would be exposed to vexatious lawsuits if this case were given any merit. It’s common sense but maybe a warning should be displayed in any video chat or text app by utilizing the device’s velocity sensor and warn the user not to video chat or text if they are driving, and have a prompt appear where the user taps and agrees to confirm they are not driving. That’s about all I think Apple or any similarly situated company has a duty to do. A duty to warn. Because dummies will continue to app and drive…

  • EllaFino

    A clear cut case of an ambulance chasing lawyer trying to make a buck out of someone’s tragedy.