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When design defects lead to death on the road

Some products are just flat-out dangerous to use, even if they're perfectly made and you use them exactly the way that they are intended. If there's a foreseeable risk of injury either to the user or to others that could be prevented by a minor extra step that the manufacturer simply doesn't bother to take, that's considered a defect in design for which the company can be held financially liable.

Sometimes those design defects lead to death on the nation's highways in surprising ways—especially when the product in question isn't even part of a motor vehicle.

However, that's the basis of the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Apple by the parents of a child killed when the car she was riding in was rear-ended by another driver who was using the company's FaceTime app while behind the wheel.

The parents contend that Apple has had the technology to lock drivers out of the app since 2008, as evidenced by the patent they filed at that time for a "driver handheld computing device lock-out." Granted the patent in 2014, Apple never integrated the lockout into its FaceTime app. It also never gave drivers any sort of strong warning against using the app and driving at the same time.

In general, to be successful in this sort of lawsuit, the plaintiffs have to prove several different things:

—The alternative design or modification was physically possible at the time

—The alternative modification could be done without putting an undue financial burden on the manufacturer

—The modification wouldn't stop the product from being able to be used as it was originally intended

It's unlikely that Apple intended its FaceTime app to be used while people were driving, but it is likely that they could have predicted that drivers would use it anyhow. There have been significant problems reported in the media with texting and driving, and cellphone use in general. It would seem prudent to have at least given users a strongly-worded caution against using it while behind the wheel.

If a close family member has been killed by a dangerous product that could have easily been made safer, consider contacting a wrongful death attorney to discuss the case.

Source: FindLaw, "Defects in Design," accessed Jan. 03, 2017

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Brian Jensen

Representation in the Houston Area with 3 Convenient Locations:

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Frost Bank Building, 6750 West Loop South, Suite 800
Bellaire, TX 77401

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