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Attorneys appeal Cross Roads family's liability case against Apple

Attorneys for the Modisette family of Cross Roads are working to keep a wrongful death case against Apple Inc. alive.

A California Superior Court judge dismissed the case May 8 after a preliminary hearing in April. The judge said the plaintiffs didn't put forth enough facts in their claim that Apple Inc. was negligent in allowing FaceTime to be used by motorists while driving.

Apple launched FaceTime, a video-calling feature, in 2010. It has been built into newer Apple iPhones for several years. Garrett Wilhelm was using FaceTime on Christmas Eve 2014 when his car collided with the Modisette family car on Interstate 35W in southwestern Denton, killing 5-year-old Moriah and injuring three other family members, according to police.

Photo of Moriah Modisette, the five year-old little girl that was killed in a car wreck in Denton on Christmas Eve.
Photo of Moriah Modisette, the five year-old little girl that was killed in a car wreck in Denton on Christmas Eve.

The family's attorney, Jennifer Bartlett, filed to appeal the dismissal earlier this month. She did not return calls and messages for comment. 

Moriah's mother Bethany Modisette, who was injured in the crash, declined to comment on the case. 

Apple’s attorney, Christopher Chorba, said the company had no comment on the pending litigation. 

According to police reports, Wilhelm told officers he was using FaceTime prior to the wreck. When officers located Wilhelm’s iPhone at the scene, the application was still running.

The family's lawsuit against Apple was filed Dec. 23 in Superior Court of Santa Clara County, where the company is based. 

In the petition, the family alleges Apple had the ability to disable a driver’s use of FaceTime for many years. The company applied for a patent in 2008 for a function that would allow its smartphones to disable certain features while the user was driving. The family claimed Apple was negligent in releasing its iPhones with FaceTime without the lockout capabilities. They are seeking unspecified damages for Moriah’s death, for their injuries and for attorney’s costs. 

A hearing in California's Sixth Appellate District has not yet been scheduled.

Garrett WilhelmCourtesy photo
Garrett Wilhelm
Courtesy photo

Wilhelm faces a manslaughter charge in connection with Moriah’s death. He has been out on bond since he was indicted in August 2015. 

A trial date was canceled in February and rescheduled for July, but has been moved again. A jury trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 6 in the 367th District Court in Denton. 

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. 

FEATURED PHOTO: A view of the wreck on Christmas Eve 2014 that killed 5-year-old Moriah Modisette of Cross Roads and seriously injured members of her family, looking north toward Denton on Interstate 35W near Allred Road.
DRC file photo