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Negligence lawsuit filed over Google Maps after man died driving off a collapsed bridge

A woman filed a negligence lawsuit against Google Tuesday, alleging that her husband died after driving his car off a collapsed bridge last year while following directions using Google Maps.

Philip Paxson, father of two, drowned nearHickory, North Carolina, on the night of Sept. 30, 2022, according to the lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court.

The suit alleges that Paxson was following directions using Google Maps while driving through an unfamiliar neighborhood on the way home from his daughter’s ninth birthday party. The suit claims Google Maps directed Paxson to cross Snow Creek Bridge, which had collapsed in 2013.

What happened on the day Paxson died?

Paxson and his wife, Alicia Paxson, had originally planned for a birthday camping trip for their daughter, but came up with alternative plans because of a storm.

Instead, they threw a camping-themed party at a friend’s home in a neighborhood of Hickory — which is located about 50 miles north of Charlotte — known as the Hickory Woods development.

Paxson had never been to the home before that day and was “generally unfamiliar with the Hickory Woods development,” according to the suit. He and his wife drove to the home separately. His wife went early to help set up, and Paxson stayed late to help clean up.

Following the party, the suit reads, Paxson was following Google Maps directions to make the approximately 10-minute drive home and did not know about the collapsed bridge that he drove over.

“The bridge had no artificial lighting, and the area was pitch black at 11:00 p.m.,” the suit says. “While following the dangerous directions the Google Map Defendants provided, Mr. Paxson’s vehicle drove off the unguarded edge of the bridge and crashed approximately twenty feet below.”

Paxson’s Jeep Gladiator was found partially submerged in a creek, CBS affiliate WBTV reported last year. Paxson drowned inside.

“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,” Alicia Paxson said in a statement. “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.”

What does the lawsuit suit allege?

According to the suit, Google Maps had been notified about the Snow Creek Bridge collapse in the years leading up to Paxson’s death. The suit includes images of messages from Hickory resident Kim Ellis, who suggested edits to Google Maps twice regarding the collapsed bridge.

“We have the deepest sympathies for the Paxson family,” Google spokesperson José Castañeda said in a statement. “Our goal is to provide accurate routing information in Maps and we are reviewing this lawsuit.”

Paxson’s lawsuit also names Tarde, LLC, James Tarlton, and Hinckley Gauvain, LLC. The suit claims they were responsible for the road and bridge.

The road is private road, WBTV reported. In North Carolina, according to the station, the state maintains state-owned roads, but counties do not maintain public or private roads.

“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,” Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky attorney Robert Zimmerman said. “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.”

The Paxson family is seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages following her husband’s death. She’s asked for a jury trial in the case.

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