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

By Jamiel Lynch, CNN

(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.

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.

Alicia Paxson told CNN Saturday that police officers came to her door after her husband’s death.

“Just the look on their faces, you know, I just knew,” she said. “It was the worst day in my life.”

She told her daughters, “Daddy had an accident and he went to heaven.” Her eldest daughter, she said, became angry.

“‘I want daddy,’ she said. ‘What are we going to do on Father’s Day? I don’t want to get married. He’s not going to be there,’” Alicia Paxson recalled.

In an earlier statement shared by her lawyers, Alicia Paxson said her family wants to “make sure our voices are heard.”

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

“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,” Paxson said.

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

“Like so many motorists, Philip put his trust in Google Maps to safely guide him home from the children’s birthday party,” family attorney Larry Bendesky said in a statement. “His trust in Google Maps, and the failure of the road and bridge-keepers to do their jobs, cost him his life.”

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