Lawsuit claims Google Maps led dad of two over collapsed bridge to his death

Web giant accused of gross negligence by not updating app despite complaints

A lawsuit was this week filed against Google in North Carolina following the death of a 47-year-old father of two who drove off a collapsed bridge.

Medical device salesman Philip Paxson was alleged to have been navigating using Google Maps at the time of the accident in September 2022.

The complaint [PDF] claims that the app led him across a bridge in the city of Hickory that had been out since 2013 without being repaired.

His Jeep Gladiator fell about 20ft into a creek and Paxson drowned. State troopers found the vehicle overturned and partially submerged. There were no barriers or warning signs along the road leading to the hazard, the complaint states.

The lawsuit, brought by Paxson's family, accuses Google of gross negligence in failing to update its maps to show the route is impassable.

According to the complaint, the family had recently moved to the area from Florida so Paxson was unfamiliar with the neighborhood. A weekend camping trip had been planned with friends to jointly celebrate the birthdays of two of the families' children but this was canceled due to rain.

Instead, they held a camping-themed party at their friends' house. Paxson's wife, Alicia, drove over first to help set up and he followed with their daughters later. When the party was over, Alicia drove home with the children while Paxson remained behind to help clear up.

When Paxson left, it was dark and raining. He had no knowledge of the collapsed bridge he was being led toward, yet residents were familiar and referred to it as the "Bridge to Nowhere," the family's lawyers claimed.

Broken bridge from Google complaint

The bridge where Philip Paxson died

The complaint alleges that Google had been notified by concerned residents asking for the route to be struck off both years before the accident and following Paxson's death.

"As of April 6, 2023, and upon information and belief at other times thereafter, the collapsed bridge unbelievably was still depicted as a passable road on Google Maps ... despite the Google Map Defendants having been placed on notice yet again of the danger," the lawsuit claims.

The family's attorney, Robert W Zimmerman, said in a statement: "For nine years, the community of Hickory was needlessly and senselessly placed at risk, when a road-bridge collapsed in 2013, and when one of the largest companies in the world refused to correct its mapping algorithms despite repeated pleas. For years before this tragedy, Hickory residents asked for the road to be fixed or properly barricaded before someone was hurt or killed. Their demands went unanswered.

"We've discovered that Google Maps misdirected motorists like Mr Paxson onto this collapsed road for years, despite receiving complaints from the public demanding that Google fix its map and directions to mark the road as CLOSED. Philip's widow Alicia is adamant we do everything possible to obtain justice and make sure something like this tragic nightmare cannot happen to another family."

Alicia Paxson said after the filing: "My daughters spent their first Father's Day without their Dad. They should have been celebrating and spending time with Philip, who devoted his life to his family. Instead, they had to look across the dinner table and see an empty chair. Our girls ask how and why their daddy died, and I'm at a loss for words they can understand because, as an adult, I still can't understand how those responsible for the GPS directions, and the bridge, could have acted with so little regard for human life. Google ignored the concerned community voices telling them to change its map and directions. No one should ever lose a loved one this way, and we want to make sure our voices are heard."

Google and parent Alphabet aren't the only ones in the firing line here. The complaint also lists James Tarlton, Tarde LLC, and Hinckley Gauvain LLC as "Bridge Defendants" which it alleges "owned, controlled, and/or were otherwise responsible for the land" where the bridge is located, claiming that they "had a duty and responsibility to maintain" the bridge, not limited to "erecting and maintaining proper barricades and/or warning signs identifying any hazards particular to the land." These entities have also been accused of gross negligence.

The lawsuit demands a jury trial as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

A Google spokesperson told The Register: "We have the deepest sympathies for the Paxson family. Our goal is to provide accurate routing information in Maps and we are reviewing this lawsuit." ®

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