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Man drives off bridge ‘following Google Maps’

Father of two drowned after plummeting from a collapsed bridge in North Carolina

Anthony Cuthbertson
Thursday 21 September 2023 13:58 BST
An illustration picture shows the Google Maps app on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia on 9 June, 2020
An illustration picture shows the Google Maps app on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia on 9 June, 2020 (Getty Images)
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A man who died after driving his car off a collapsed bridge was following Google Maps directions, according to a lawsuit.

The family of Philip Paxson, who drowned on 30 September last year while driving home from his daughter’s ninth birthday party, is suing the technology giant for negligence, claiming that it had been informed of the collapse but failed to update its navigation system.

Paxson, a medical device salesman and father of two, drove his Jeep Gladiator off the derelict bridge into Snow Creek in Hickory, North Carolina.

He was driving through an unfamiliar neighbourhood when Google Maps directed him to cross a bridge that had collapsed nine years prior and was never repaired, a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Wake County Superior Court alleges.

“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," said his wife, Alicia Paxson.

State troopers who found Paxson's body in his overturned and partially submerged truck had said there were no barriers or warning signs along the washed-out roadway.

He had driven off an unguarded edge and crashed about six metres (20 feet) below, according to the lawsuit.

A photograph of the bridge in Hickory, North Carolina, following the incident (Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky)

The North Carolina State Patrol had said the bridge was not maintained by local or state officials, and the original developer’s company had dissolved.

The lawsuit names several private property management companies that it claims are responsible for the bridge and the adjoining land.

Multiple people had notified Google Maps about the collapse in the years leading up to Paxson's death and had urged the company to update its route information, according to the lawsuit.

The Tuesday court filing includes email records from another Hickory resident who had used the map's “suggest and edit” feature in September 2020 to alert the company that it was directing drivers over the collapsed bridge.

A November 2020 email confirmation from Google confirms the company received her report and was reviewing the suggested change, but the lawsuit claims Google took no further actions.

A spokesperson for Google, which is headquartered in California but maintains a registered office in Raleigh, said: “We have the deepest sympathies for the Paxson family. Our goal is to provide accurate routing information in Maps and we are reviewing this lawsuit.”

In a post on Facebook, Paxson’s mother-in-law wrote that it was dark and rainy on the night that he died.

“He will be greatly missed by his family and friends,” she wrote. “It was a totally preventable accident. We are grieving his death.”

Additional reporting from agencies

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