Family sues Google alleging its Maps app led father to drive off collapsed bridge to his death

By Jamiel Lynch | CNN

Google has been sued by the family of a North Carolina man claiming the company’s Maps application last year led him to drive off a collapsed bridge and fall about 20 feet to his death, according to the lawsuit.

Philip Paxson was following Google Maps directions while driving home late at night in September 2022 from his daughter’s 9th birthday party when the navigation system directed him to go over an unmarked and unbarricaded bridge that had collapsed years prior, the suit filed Tuesday states.

Philip Paxson, pictured with his wife, Alicia Paxson, drowned on September 30, 2022, after driving off a collapsed bridge, according to a lawsuit. (Courtesy Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky via CNN) 

Paxson drove off the unbarricaded edge of the bridge in Hickory, North Carolina, and drowned, the suit says.

The lawsuit claims neighbors had expressed concern Google Maps had led drivers over the bridge, which allegedly has not been repaired since its partial collapse in 2013.

“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,” Paxson family attorney Robert Zimmerman 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.”

Though residents notified Google Maps of the hazardous bridge, the application continued to navigate drivers over it, claims the suit, which includes a report made to Google Maps by a woman asking it to update its navigation system; CNN is unable to verify the veracity of the exhibit.

“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.”

The woman appears to have gotten an email autoreply from Google Maps thanking her for the report, the court filing shows: “Your suggestion is being reviewed. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. We’ll let you know once the changes are published,” it states.

Besides Google, the family is suing its parent company, Alphabet, and two local companies it claims were responsible for maintaining the land and bridge, along with proper barricades and warning signs, and failed to repair the bridge or put up barricades and hazard warnings. The suit claims 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,” it told CNN in a statement. “Our goal is to provide accurate routing information in maps, and we are reviewing this lawsuit.” CNN has sought comment from codefendants Tarde, LLC and Hinckley Gauvain, LLC.

Paxson is survived by his wife, Alicia, and the couple’s two daughters, ages 9 and 7, the suit says. The family wants to “make sure our voices are heard,” Alicia Paxson said in a statement shared by her attorneys.

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