This is a question raised by a fascinating NYT article on Sunday. Here’s the argument: Apple has a patent on a technology that would prevent the iPhone from sending or receiving texts in a moving car. This technology is not, though, part of the iPhone. Since texting while driving is a significant cause of accidents, Apple could be liable on a design defect theory for any car accident where texting on an iPhone while driving causes the harm.
The missing information here is whether Apple’s patent actually works and at what cost. I’m dubious that such a patent can tell the difference between a driver texting vs. a passenger texting, or someone texting in a car vs. someone doing that in a train or on a bus.
Suppose, though, that a patent could lock out only texting while driving. Then I would think that, unless the technology was pretty expensive, the failure to include it as a standard feature would be a serious problem for Apple even if many customers would be angered by such a lockout.