The family of a North Carolina man who died after driving off a collapsed bridge as he followed directions given on Google Maps is suing the tech giant for negligence, saying it failed to update its navigation system after the span washed away nine years prior.
Philip Paxson was driving home from his oldest daughter’s birthday party on Sept. 30, 2022, when his Jeep plunged into Snow Creek in Hickory, causing him to drown, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by his family.
The 47-year-old father of two was unfamiliar with the neighborhood he was driving through on a dark and stormy night and was directed by Google Maps across a bridge that collapsed nearly a decade earlier and was never repaired.
“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,” his wife, Alicia Paxson, said.
There were no barriers or warning signs along the roadway, which had been washed out and never mended following a 2013 flood.
Paxon’s car plunged off an unguarded edge and crashed 20 feet below, according to the lawsuit. State troopers discovered his body inside his overturned and partially submerged Jeep.
Multiple people told Google Maps about the broken bridge in the years leading up to Paxson’s death — urging the company to update its route information — but nothing was ever done, the lawsuit alleges.
The filing also includes email records from another Hickory resident who used Google Maps’ “suggest and edit” feature in September 2020 to inform Google it was sending drivers over the collapsed bridge.
A second email from November 2020 shows the company received the report and was reviewing the suggested change. The lawsuit claims that even after receiving the report, the tech giant took no further action.
The bridge is not maintained by local or state officials, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said, and its original developer has since dissolved.
The lawsuit names Hickory businessman James Tarlton and the companies Tarde LLC and Hinckley Gauvain LLC as the owners of the bridge and its surrounding land, the Hickory Record reported.
Tarlton, Tarde and Hinckley Gauvain are accused of failing to repair the damaged bridge and providing sufficient lighting to prevent people from crashing into Snow Creek.
The lawsuit was filed in Wake County, North Carolina, because of Google’s presence in the state, Alicia Paxson’s attorney Robert Zimmerman said during a press conference Wednesday.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” his grieving widow said during a news conference Wednesday.
An obituary for Paxson said that he “had a lifelong affection for muscle cars, motorcycles, dirt bikes, boats, really anything with a motor.”
“He traveled the world with his father-in-law riding motorcycles. He and his wife along with their two daughters enjoyed camping and boating with family and friends. Phil put his family first and his friends, almost equal, second,” the obituary states.
“He was larger than life, always ready for an adventure, with a permanent smile on his face, he would give you the shirt off his back or talk you out of the one on yours.”
With Post wires
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