When the Digital Age Meets Analog Legal Principles
It has long been the adage that the law cannot keep up with the pace of technology. Often, federal and state legislatures enact regulatory measures in a reactive fashion – only after new technology is introduced does a need for increased regulation become apparent. Further, under the separation of powers doctrine, our judicial system is tasked only with interpreting laws. (Of course, depending on whom you ask, our courts sometimes seem to create laws.) This is part of why rapid technological innovation can often be problematic for our judicial system – disputes involving new technology often require the court to apply somewhat ancient legal principles.
Take for instance a 2016 lawsuit filed against Apple, Inc. in a California Superior Court. The lawsuit, brought by the Modisette family, allege that their daughter was killed in a vehicle accident directly caused by another driver using Apple’s “Facetime” video communications application on his Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The complaint alleges that “[a]s a result of the distraction caused by the use of [Apple’s] “Facetime on [Apple’s] iPhone 6 Plus while operating his vehicle, [driver’s] attention was diverted away from the traffic conditions on the road.” The Modisette family allege that Apple has had the technology to prevent the use of “Facetime” while operating a motor vehicle, as described in a 2008 application filed with the U.S Patent Office for a “driver handheld computing device lockout.”
So what type of new-age legal claim does the family intend to bring against Apple?
Negligence, which today is comprised largely of the same elements as it was when judicially created in the early 1800’s (which was, obviously, quite a few years before the advent of the smart phone – or any phone for that matter).
Bringing a claim against Apple using a doctrine formulated two-hundred years ago sounds archaic, but it makes sense. The principles of negligence – a duty of care, a breach of that care, causation, and damages, are broad – perfect for continued application and adaptability to the rapid pace of technological innovation, and the lawsuits that arise therefrom.
As technological progress continues, it will be both fascinating, and quite the learning experience, to witness if and when the law will adapt to keep pace with new technologies.
By: Christopher J. Gleeson, Esquire