Google is being sued by a widow who says her husband drowned in September 2022 after Google Maps directed him over a collapsed bridge in Hickory, North Carolina.
Google failed to correct its map service despite warnings about the broken bridge two years before the accident, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday by Alicia Paxson in Wake County Superior Court. Philip Paxson “died tragically while driving home from his daughter’s ninth birthday party, when he drove off of an unmarked, unbarricaded collapsed bridge in Hickory, North Carolina while following GPS directions,” the complaint said.
The Snow Creek Bridge reportedly collapsed in 2013 and wasn’t repaired. Barricades were typically in place but “were removed after being vandalized and were missing at the time of Paxson’s wreck,” according to The Charlotte Observer. The lawsuit has five defendants, including Google and its owner Alphabet.
The other defendants are James Tarlton and two local business entities called Tarde, LLC and Hinckley Gauvain, LLC. Tarlton and the two businesses “owned, controlled, and/or were otherwise responsible for the land” containing the bridge, the lawsuit said.
“The Bridge Defendants refused to properly maintain the bridge, leaving it in a horrendously dangerous state of disrepair for years,” the lawsuit said. “The Bridge Defendants refused to place reasonable and proper barricades in front of the hazard to alert drivers of the deadly drop and failed to enact inspection measures to ensure that barricades remained in front of the hazard until necessary repairs occurred.”
Lawsuit: Google failed to make suggested edits
Pictures provided by the law firm indicate that “Road Closed” signs and barriers were placed on either side of the bridge, though those barriers were not there at the time of the accident.
In September 2020, “Hickory resident Kim Ellis used the ‘Suggest An Edit’ feature on Google Maps to place the Google Maps Defendants on notice that the Snow Creek Bridge had washed away,” the lawsuit said. In November 2020, after Google took no action, “Ellis again contacted the Google Maps Defendants via the ‘Suggest An Edit’ feature pleading for Google Maps to update its navigation system,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit provides the confirmation emails Ellis received from Google after both of her reports and says that she “was not the only citizen who notified Google of the dangerous condition.”
“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 when routing from [the birthday party site] to the Paxson’s home, despite the Google Map Defendants having been placed on notice yet again of the danger,” the lawsuit said.
The family learned after the accident that residents called it the “Bridge to Nowhere,” according to law firm Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky’s press release. “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,” attorney Robert Zimmerman said in the press release. He said that Google “refused to correct its mapping algorithms despite repeated pleas” from residents.