Should we sue cellphone companies over car accidents caused by distracted drivers?


You knew this was coming. Someone’s driving a car. They’re talking on their cellphone, too. The car crashes. It crashes into another car. The driver of the other car dies. And now the family of the killed driver wants to sue someone. That “someone” just so happens to be the wireless provider and the manufacturer of the phone.

Linda Doyle, 61, died on September 3, 2008 as the result of injuries sustained in a car crash. Her car was hit by Christopher Hill, 20, who says he ran a red light because he was distracted by the ringing of his cellphone.

And now a lawsuit has been filed against Sprint and Samsung. Sprint, for providing the cellphone service, and Samsung, for creating the phone itself (the UpStage).

A similar suit was thrown out of court in 2003, when judges ruled that the car crash was caused by a distracted driver and not a cellphone. (Yes, it’s a bit like “guns don’t kill people.”)

What’s going to happen with the lawsuit in question? We can only guess. A lawyer chimed in with, “[The case] deals with the widespread use of a product we now know is involved in significant risk and deals with the ultimate question of who should contribute in minimizing the risk.”

To expand that a little further, yes, I should hope by now we all recognize that it’s extraordinarily dangerous to talk on the phone or text while driving; don’t do it. At the same time, there are plenty of dangerous activities that people engage in every day—driving in and of itself is pretty dangerous when you think about what’s going on—that don’t generate this type of lawsuit.

Once again, technology has evolved faster than our capacity to utilize it well.