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Professor Amy Landers Quoted on Lawsuit that Blames Apple in Distracted-Driver Crash

Amy L. Landers

January 10, 2017

A negligence suit filed against Apple by the family of a child killed by a distracted driver may face long odds, Professor Amy Landers said in a Jan. 5 article published by Seeker.

A Texas driver was charged with manslaughter after authorities determined he was engaged in a FaceTime call on his iPhone when he collided with another car, killing a 5-year-old girl and seriously hurting three members of her family in 2014, the article said.

The family is suing Apple for negligence, citing a patent application the company filed for technology that can lock a cell phone when the owner’s vehicle is in motion, the article said, adding that Apple never installed the safety feature on any of its iPhones.

Landers, an authority on patent law and director of the law school’s Intellectual Property Law program, said that raising patent issues in the context of a negligence case represents a tricky strategy.

“Patent law is an incentive for inventing, not for creating product that reaches the public,” Landers said. “In fact, there are thousands of patents issued that have never found their way into any commercial product.”

For the suit to succeed, Landers said, a jury would have to find that Apple ignored knowable risks in failing to implement the safety feature.

"Overall, negligence is a very fact-intensive claim to bring," she said. "Until some documents are produced and some witnesses questioned, it's going to be very difficult to predict the outcome here."

Seeker is a digital network owned by the parent company of Discovery Channel.