Family sues Google for father's death after 'Maps app misdirected him'

Philip Paxson was following directions on Google Maps when he fell around 20ft in his car, according to a lawsuit launched by his family.

The family of a man from North Carolina who died after driving off a collapsed bridge are suing Google, claiming the company’s Maps application led to his death.

Philip Paxson was following directions on Google Maps in September 2022 when he fell around 20ft in his car, according to the lawsuit.

The father-of-two was driving home late at night from his eldest daughter’s ninth birthday party when the navigation system directed him to go over an unmarked and unbarricaded bridge, which had collapsed years beforehand.

Mr Paxson drove off the edge of the bridge in Hickory, North Carolina, and drowned, the lawsuit added.

Neighbours are also claimed to have been expressing concerns that Google Maps had led drivers over the bridge, which allegedly has not been repaired since its partial collapse in 2013.

Google was incorporated in 1998. / Credit: AP

“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,” Robert Zimmerman, the lawyer for the Paxson family, said in a statement.

“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.”

Although residents notified Google Maps of the hazardous bridge, the application continued to navigate drivers over it, the lawsuit alleges – including a report made to Google Maps by a woman asking it to update its navigation system.

“You are not able to cross this road. GPS sends people down here, which is especially dangerous for emergency vehicles,” reads the report sent to Google Maps. Please update this map so GPS is accurate.”

Philip Paxson fell 20ft to his death after allegedly being directed to drive over an unmarked bridge (Credit: CNN)

The woman appears to have received an email autoreply from Google Maps, thanking her for the submission, court documents show.

“Your suggestion is being reviewed,” it says. “Thanks for sharing your knowledge. We’ll let you know once the changes are published”.

Besides Google, the family is suing its parent company, Alphabet, and two local companies it claims were responsible for maintaining the land and bridge.

The lawsuit is claiming negligence and willful and wanton conduct by the companies and seeks an unspecified amount in punitive damages.

Google has “the deepest sympathies for the Paxson family”, the firm said in a statement. “Our goal is to provide accurate routing information in maps, and we are reviewing this lawsuit.”

Mr Paxson is survived by his wife, Alicia, and the couple’s two daughters, aged nine and seven respectively.

The family wants to “make sure our voices are heard”, Alicia Paxson said in a statement shared by her lawyers.

“My daughters spent their first Father’s Day without their Dad,” Ms Paxson said.

“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. No one should ever lose a loved one this way.”

The broadcaster CNN has approached Tarde, LLC and Hinckley Gauvain, LLC for comment.

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