Buckled in her booster seat in the back of her family’s Toyota Camry, Moriah Modisette got the worst of the crash.
It was the day before Christmas 2014, and Moriah and her family — father James, mother Bethany and older sister Isabella — were in Denton County, Tex., headed south on Interstate 35W.
There was some kind of police activity ahead that brought traffic to a standstill, so James Modisette pressed the brake, bringing the car to a stop in the left lane.
Garrett Wilhelm never saw their brake lights, police believe.
Driving behind the Camry, he was using Apple’s FaceTime video chat application on his iPhone 6 Plus, and slammed into the Camry at full highway speed, says a lawsuit filed by the family, originally obtained by Courthouse News.
The nearly 5,000-pound SUV tore into the Camry, then rode up over the driver’s side.
Everyone was injured, but Moriah and her father were wedged inside and had to be pried out by rescue workers.
“Bethany Modisette and Isabella Modisette visibly and audibly witnessed rescue workers’ grueling efforts to extract James Modisette and Moriah Modisette from the mangled vehicle, as well as … (their) serious and life-threatening injuries and struggles to stay alive,” the lawsuit says.
James Modisette survived. Moriah Modisette was flown to a nearby children’s hospital, but her injuries were too severe and she died there.
Wilhelm’s iPhone survived the crash. When police found it, FaceTime was still running.
Wilhelm was charged with manslaughter in the case, which is working its way through court, according to the Associated Press, but the family thinks the iPhone’s manufacturer, Apple, is also to blame.
At issue is the FaceTime app, which comes preloaded on iPhones and iPads. The Modisettes’ lawsuit says iPhones should detect whether a user is driving a car and disable the attention-consuming video chat app.
In a lawsuit filed a day before the second anniversary of the crash, the family says iPhones have the ability to tell whether the phone is in motion and how fast it’s going, via built-in accelerometers and GPS.
“Yet Defendant Apple, Inc., failed to configure the iPhone 6 Plus to ‘lock-out’ the ability for a driver to utilize (Apple’s) ‘FaceTime’ application, while driving at highway speeds,” the lawsuit says.
The Modisettes’ case is yet another example of drivers’ crashing while distracted by apps on their smartphones.
A motorist playing Pokémon Go on his smartphone crashed into a marked patrol car in Delaware. Another person did it in Baltimore. Last week, a Canadian teenager who crashed his vehicle was charged with texting while driving.
And British government officials are to meet with smartphone manufacturers this year to pressure them to introduce a “drive safe” mode, according to the International Business Times.
Apple did not respond to messages from The Washington Post seeking comment over the weekend.
The company also has not responded to the Modisettes’ lawsuit, according to the AP.
From January to June 2016, highway deaths increased 10.4 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the New York Times. A major cause: the use of apps on Internet-connected smartphones.
Another New York Times story on distracted driving said phone and technology companies argue that such lockout services are unreliable.
“They argue that they cannot shut down a driver’s service without the potential of mistakenly shutting off a passenger’s phone or that of someone riding on a train or bus,” the New York Times said.
In a statement issued for that story, Apple stressed its view that responsibility lies with drivers.
“For those customers who do not wish to turn off their iPhones or switch into Airplane Mode while driving to avoid distractions, we recommend the easy-to-use Do Not Disturb and Silent Mode features,” the statement said.