Fatal Directions and Unheard Warnings

In September 2022, Philip Paxson was driving home from his daughter’s birthday party in Hickory, North Carolina. Like so many of us do daily, he relied on Google Maps for directions. Part of the directions Google Maps suggested was for Mr. Paxson to cross a small bridge over a creek. The issue was that this bridge no longer existed as it had collapsed nine years prior. Navigating unfamiliar roads on a rainy night, Philip Paxson drove off the road where the bridge once was and tragically drowned. Philip’s family is now suing Google, claiming the company failed to update its maps.

The complaint alleges that twice in 2020, a Hickory resident used the “suggest an edit” feature on Google Maps to alert the company that the bridge was gone and not to direct people to use it. It is alleged that Google took no action in response to these alerts and noted only that they were “being reviewed.” Further, the lawsuit claims that Google continued to suggest users cross the bridge months after Mr. Paxson’s fatal crash. Along with naming Google as a defendant, the complaint also targets several private property management companies responsible for the land around the bridge and who the family alleges should have closed off the property.

The broader question beyond this tragic death and the potential legal ramifications if Google is found negligent is what can corporations learn from this. One thought is to take a second look at how corporations evaluate criticism. Does your business have a consumer feedback system, and if it does, how often is this feedback reviewed and considered? Internally, are employees allowed to make suggestions or raise concerns regarding the company? Are there any ways to fill gaps in knowledge that may come from sources outside the business? There are limits to how much information a company can realistically work through and how much of the feedback could be useful. However, one wonders what could have happened had Google reacted differently to its received feedback.