Accident victims sue Apple over texting feature

California-based Apple Inc. has been sued by a group of distracted driving accident victims. The class-action lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles, accuses the technology leader of acting negligently by not releasing a safety feature that prevents drivers from texting while behind the wheel. The lawsuit claims that Apple developed the safety feature in 2008 and was awarded a patent for it in 2014.

Distracted driving crashes are becoming alarmingly common on America's roads, and a National Safety Council report cites text messaging as a factor in more than one in four motor vehicle collisions in the United States. NHTSA considers texting motorists to be far more deadly than drunk drivers, and a U.S. Department of Transportation study suggests that about 1.5 million Americans are looking at cellphone screens while they drive at any given moment.

These are the kind of statistics that Apple's attorneys will have to contend with, and their client's dominating 40 percent share of U.S. smartphone sales could make it difficult for them to counter the claim that releasing the feature would have improved road safety. In addition to unspecified damages, the plaintiffs are demanding the release of the texting lockout feature and its inclusion in all future iPhones.

The burden of proof in civil trials is lower than it is in criminal proceedings, and the defendants in this type of case often seek settlements rather than take their chances in front of a jury. Losing product liability cases can severely damage brand names and unleash a flood of similar claims, and experienced personal injury attorneys may be well aware of this. When defendants have deep pockets and much to lose, attorneys representing accident victims may agree to a settlement offer that includes a nondisclosure provision if the terms are beneficial to their clients.

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