Can Google Be Held Liable For Man Who Died Following Google Maps Over A Collapsed Bridge?

from the tragic-story dept

There’s a pretty well known scene from The Office, when Michael Scott (played by Steve Carrell) follows his GPS device’s instructions (incorrectly, obviously) and drives into a lake:

The writer of that scene says the inspiration was a number of stories of people doing exactly that. In fact, in the earlier days of Techdirt, we wrote about a number of such stories. And not just once. But many times. Many, many times. Many, many, many times. When it happened on The Office, it was funny. In some of the links here, when no one got hurt, it was also kind of funny. But… when someone ends up dying because of it, it’s not funny at all.

Tragically, though, it happened again last year, where Philip Paxson followed his GPS to a bridge that had collapsed a decade ago and was effectively non-existent, and had not been repaired. And now Paxson’s wife is suing. The story is making headlines because beyond suing the private property owners who own the property where the bridge had been, they’re suing Google, because Google Maps recommended Philip drive over the bridge.

The horrifying bit, to me, is the simple fact that there were allegedly no barriers or other warning signs telling people that the bridge was out (and had been for years). I could see that simple fact (if accurate), leading to serious problems for the property owners (the bridge was over private property, and apparently it was not the local government’s responsibility).

The Google part… however… seems like a long shot, legally speaking. The complaint is designed to tug at your heart strings, and everything about the situation seems unfortunate and tragic. But can Google be held liable? That’s a tougher argument to make, though the lawyers here try valiantly to do so.

Normally, though, all liability falls on the driver to be aware of their own surroundings and the road ahead of them. While the complaint, repeatedly, notes that he drove down this road late at night, when there was no external lighting and it was “pitch black” out, his car must have had headlights, which can be pretty bright. And if he was paying attention to the road in front of him, it seems like he should have noticed that a large section of the bridge was missing.

That said, the part that makes this slightly trickier, is that the complaint has clear evidence that Google was informed of the broken bridge, as a nearby resident had alerted the company to the issue using Google Maps’ “Suggest an Edit” feature, and the complaint shows an acknowledgement from Google to that resident that it had received her “suggested edit” (nearly two years before the accident.)

Google Maps response thanking the user for reporting that the bridge "washed away several years ago."

The complaint also shows another “suggested edit” after the accident, telling Google that someone had died there while following Google Maps. As the complaint notes, when the lawyers checked again in April of this year (nearly half a year after the accident), Google Maps still listed the non-existent bridge as drivable.


That’s pretty bad, no matter how you look at it, but I’m still not sure that it’s so bad that Google will be found liable. Google Maps tries to map the entire world, and it likely receives a very large number of edit requests on a regular basis, and not all of them are legit. Indeed, people have written about how sneaky competitors might use “suggest an edit” to harm a business. Which means that Google can’t just rely on the submitted data as accurate, and will likely often have to send someone out to check on these things. It seems likely that not everything gets checked, and the backlog may take a while. Also, the first “notification” in the complaint came in the midst of the COVID pandemic lockdowns, which makes me wonder if Google Maps checkers were less able to check on these things as well at the time.

On top of that, another photo in the complaint itself shows the bridge in daylight, which seems to suggest that while there may not have been barriers blocking the bridge, there did appear to be trees growing across the road. From the images in the complaint, the car ended up against the far wall in the image below. And you can see what appear to be trees, or very large weeds of some kind growing there, which he would have had to drive through to reach the hole if he was driving from that side. If, instead, he was somehow driving from the foreground side, the fact that his car ended up wedged against that far wall, might also suggest he was going quite fast for such a road.

Photo of a missing bridge as described in the paragraph above

Still, every bit of this story is tragic and unfortunate. The bridge should have been blocked off and clearly marked as non-existent. Google should have been better about responding to user requests to update the map to avoid showing that as a legitimate road.

But… it’s unclear to me that this raises to the level of negligence required for the case to succeed against Google.

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Comments on “Can Google Be Held Liable For Man Who Died Following Google Maps Over A Collapsed Bridge?”

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Anonymous Coward says:


The county roads are still the county roads. Were all of the roads involved here private roads? What is the county’s role in this, if any?

Reports on this that I have read, say that the bridge “owner” had taken damaged warning markers away to get them repaired when the accident happened.

Sue the maker of the bridge…

So you’re saying that if I ever make a bridge and let the public drive on it even once, I am responsible forever, even if I tear the bridge down?

James Burkhardt (profile) says:


So A) why? the bridge wasn’t faulty and the contractor doesn’t own the bridge.
B) google isn’t the only person being sued, so even if you had properly identified the person who should be sued, my response is simply they did both. Including google here is more Hail Mary than grounded play, and seems to be focused on the idea that the bridge owners likely cant pay (since they can’t repair the bridge or have barriers less able to be carted away). But it is not uncommon for The initial filing in a lawsuit of this type to be overbroad. Contrasting from suits that attempt to hold twitter solely responsible for Terrorist content, by also identifying the property owners, the lawsuit feels (to me) like a broad initial filing with some wishcasting around google, rather than a pure cashgrab at google.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Steve Dallas would probably love this lawsuit.

Someone’s reliance on technology over their own eyes shouldn’t make the technology liable for that someone’s mistake. Technology isn’t infallible; treating it as though it was, and putting liability on it for what is essentially a(n ultimately tragic) human error, doesn’t do anyone any good.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Which is why the whole self-driving thing as zero appeal for me. The only reason I’d want a self-driving car is so that I could read a book or watch a movie or curl up in the back sear and snooze while the car drove for me. If I can’t do that– if I literally have to sit with my hands on the wheel miming driving– why bother? I might as well just actually drive the car myself.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:


A) I agree with the legal conclusions re: google, but overall this lawsuit also targets a bunch of people who are absolutely responsible for a lack of permanent barriers or temporary signage (obvs, whether that results in civil liability for the accident is up to a court). Its not quite the pure hold technology resposible lawsuit its being framed as.

B) Google flags my navigation if the location i am traveling to closes near or before my arrival. I would argue we should be putting pressure on google to add notices when the safety (or existence) of a route is in question. It would address a lot of the conflicts between googles “We just calculate the best route.” approach and the expectation that roads on google’s maps actually exist. Worse than routes that don’t exist are routes that are deceptively dangerous like that one road that was dangerously steep for general traffic.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

overall this lawsuit also targets a bunch of people who are absolutely responsible for a lack of permanent barriers or temporary signage

Those people should be held responsible. Google, on the other hand, had nothing to do with any of that; their being sued is what feels like a Steve Dallas situation. I should’ve been more clear in that regard.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If you start putting liability on Google for the safety of the route it’s sending you on, then they’re going to start doing things like making sure they’re not sending you through “the bad part of town”, which in some American cities can be the equivalent of driving through Mogadishu. And that in turn will get them sued for being racist for geo-fencing minority neighborhoods and characterizing them as “bad” or “dangerous”, even if they actually are those things.

Reuben says:

Re: Reliance on Technology

Google has had their product installed in most vehicles, and offers the service broadly to the public without charge.

At what point when you offer a replacement technology (try to buy a local map from a mini-mart), do you have a responsibility to make the technology work as designed?

I know it’s not smart to over-rely on tech, but since when did people have to be smart to prove liability? We are at a point where these large companies are telling us to “rely on them” for things like remote locks and protecting our data, but then when actually relying on their data, they can also say “well, its not always reliable”.

Well until it is, maybe you don’t have a product that can be offered to the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Would you like to go back to paper maps?

“Back”? Some of us never left. It feels so constraining to be just following the directions of a computer voice, with no sense of one’s larger surroundings or any alternate possibilities. Like driving with tunnel vision. Browsing online maps is fine, but portable screens tend to be small, cellular service isn’t available everywhere, and the AAA and CAA still give unlimited free paper maps to members.

People are generally over-obsessed with recency. It used to take weeks to get an election result, and that didn’t matter. We used to use old maps, and, actually, that still works fine for the most part, if one knows the major roads and intersections near both ends of the route (and visually verifies that roads still exist before trying to drive on them).

JMT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

It feels so constraining to be just following the directions of a computer voice, with no sense of one’s larger surroundings or any alternate possibilities. Like driving with tunnel vision.

That’s really not how you should be using Google Maps or similar. If you do nothing but listen to the voice prompts you’re ignoring important and useful info on the screen. There is nothing that prevents you from having a sense of your surroundings and Google constantly provides alternate routes.

…cellular service isn’t available everywhere…

It’s trivial to download maps to your device for any area you’re going to. Google even asks if you would like it to do that if your route goes through areas with poor coverage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3

It’s trivial to download maps to your device for any area you’re going to.

Nice idea, and thanks for the advice. However, I’m an antediluvian old curmudgeon. My phone only makes and receives phone calls, just like A.G. Bell intended when invented the thing. My comfort zone extends only so far, just like my fixed-income retiree budget.

But again, thanks.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 What God Intended

I’ve studied the bible and I don’t recall where God said that one should walk instead of drive, and use paper maps instead of “a random point of technology.” But hey, I’m sure since you’re a disciple you’ll be able to point that out as well as where God said to post negative criticism of people ON HIS INTERNET for stuff they posted ON HIS INTERNET that HE CREATED but don’t use HIS MAPS that he had HIS COMPANY Google create by virtue of having CREATED all the people who work there, or their thoughts thereof.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3

If you do nothing but listen to the voice prompts you’re ignoring important and useful info on the screen.

I think that’s how most people use it. That’s why the notes are so specific, right? Like “in 15 feet, turn right”—those are not the kind of directions one gives to a person who’ll be looking at a map. And one shouldn’t be looking at maps too much while driving anyway.

Downloading maps onto a phone is all well and good, but you’re still talking about a fairly small screen. If I bring a laptop, that’s a bit bigger; and another thing to look after, another battery to charge—a solution to a problem I don’t really have.

I do often look at the online maps, on some nice big monitors, when initially planning an unfamiliar route. The street and satellite views can be quite useful to help me recognize points of interest when I see them later, and to see what the pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure looks like (if that’s relevant). When actually traveling, though, the most pleasant thing for me is to go by memory to the extent possible—maybe referring occasionally to sticky notes and/or paper maps, or maybe navigating by arterial roads, powerlines, and other landmarks.

“Whatever works”, as the saying goes. Given two arbitrary points in my city, I almost never need to pre-plan a route anymore. This is not true of some relatives who use turn-by-turn navigation frequently. I suspect our differing methods of navigation are one reason for it, though I can’t prove that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Rule one of driving, if you can’t stop in the distance you can see, you are driving too fast, if you have an accident because you saw the danger too late, you are the cause.

But the recurring stories about hundred-car pile-ups and such hint at how many people drive according to that: maybe 1% (because we have to look 100 cars back to find someone who managed to stop safely). And did you ever notice how the reporting always makes it seem like nobody was at fault? Bad weather; can’t be helped.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Bad weather; can’t be helped.

Driving as if the road is dry, and the visibility is good, when the weather is bad is ignoring rule 1. The only acceptable excuse for hitting the vehicle in front is that the vehicle behind pushed you into it.

That said there are time where finding somewhere to park safely, and waiting for the weather to improve, or the traffic to go away is the only sane option, like when being overtaken, on a two lane road, by cars doing fifty to sixty, when 30 is too fast because of the fog.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

One day on the Interstate traffic suddenly came to a halt. The car in front of me stopped, I stopped and moved as close as possible to the car in front of me because I feared the car behind me did not have enough room to stop. The car behind me stopped, the car behind him stopped. about 4 seconds later kaboom, car #5 hits #4 pushing all of us together. couple more seconds another kaboom with car #6 hitting #5 and pushing all of us a few more feet down the road.

The reason traffic suddenly stopped was because another accident had happened a few hundred feet farther down the road.

Not sure what my point here is other than to say it seems like most days no one is paying attention and is more concerned with getting to their destination faster than everyone else and not giving a crap about how their crap driving impacts others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Driving as if the road is dry, and the visibility is good, when the weather is bad is ignoring rule 1.

Of course; that was the point. Nevertheless, people tend to treat these as acts of god rather than human mistakes. At best, a story might include a closing line like “police advise people to drive with road conditions in mind”.

David says:

Re: Re:

For better or worse, night time driving relies on cues provided by road markings: tar is too dark to provide reliable vision at normal driving speed. So you depend on an absence of voids in the tarmac for your safety.

To me, there might be a case about why Google sends people on private property in the first place. And if there is a right-of-way, the question is who is responsible for the upkeep. A right-of-way usually also comes with responsibilities for the community having enforced right-of-way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The relevant addresses appear to be “3844 234rd St Ln NE, Hickory, NC, USA”, and “22nd St Ct NE” on the other side. For the first address, the Google imagery for May 2023 shows a concrete barrier on the bridge; the next-most-recent image was for October 2012 and shows the intact bridge.

Anyway, spin the images around in that area, and check out the surrounding street layout. Two things are obvious to me:
* these are tiny rural streets: no markings, curbs, or street lights; very narrow and curvy; lots of trees (Bing’s images show fallen leaves)
* I could hardly think of a more confusing layout if I tried

This is not like falling into a sinkhole hidden behind a small hill on an interstate. “Normal driving speed” for any prudent person would’ve had to have been quite low. Just browsing around on the map, knowing the rough location, it took me a while to find the turn-off for the former bridge. Imagine doing that in the dark, while confused about one’s location and heading, when an animal or kid could come out of nowhere. Even if trying to drive according to a GPS navigator, I’d say there’s about a 50% chance of ending up on one of the adjacent driveways rather than the former bridge road.

That’s not to say that any of this would preclude an accident. If the street were covered in leaves, for example, one might leave it without noticing. But based on the post-incident image, I’m having trouble seeing how it could’ve killed someone driving at reasonable speed. It’s not very deep, and nothing protrudes so as to go through a windshield.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Google map links?

The relevant addresses appear to be “3844 234rd St Ln NE, Hickory, NC, USA”, and “22nd St Ct NE”

That first address won’t parse. I don’t see a 234rd St Ln at all but I do see a 22nd St and a 23rd St (no Ln in either case) and I can’t find a 3844 on either… but there’s a 3840 and a 3846 on 22nd.

The second address is valid…

Neither street view nor satellite image shows a road there… just trees.

Not in a place where I can do more to research this at this time… but if you could post links to the maps where you saw this I’ll take another look at the roadway.


Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 More maps

Ok, going on the image in the filing (WHY NOT PROVIDE THE DAMN LINK???) I see this area, and while it’s visible in satellite view, it’s not on the streets/map view and there’s no street view, so google didn’t drive down that to take pics along this section.

I can’t believe that neither the lawsuit nor the many media sources couldn’t be bothered to provide a google maps link or two.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4

going on the image in the filing (WHY NOT PROVIDE THE DAMN LINK???)

I don’t know why the filing didn’t provide it. I didn’t because I’m sandboxing Google Maps in a virtual machine whose clipboard is not readily available. I suppose I could play with my VNC command-line to temporarily enable that… aren’t you glad you asked?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3

I fat-fingered a “4” into there somehow. “3844 23rd St Ln NE, Hickory, NC, USA”. Go one click forward, and you should see a street sign: “24th St Pl NE on top, 23rd St Ln NE on bottom”. Look down 24th, to the left, and you should see the concrete barrier—and 2 other transverse barriers if you zoom in.

The intersection has quite a large curve, which would allow a recklessly-high-speed turn from 23rd to 24th. Bad road design, for a 30-foot stub (now) of a street with one house. Otherwise, it all looks fairly normal; nothing that would make one think one is trespassing. The single high-voltage electrical line is a hint that this street might not really go anywhere. (Following such a line to its 3-phase source is often a useful way to get less lost.) And if that uninsulated cable is as close to the tree branches as it looks, that’s another sign of poor maintenance.

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Anonymous Coward says:

The question no one raging at Google ever wants to answer for me is that if Google is liable, then for what time frame should then be held liable?

Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly?

How often must Google make sure every minor road in the entire country is up to date to avoid liability?

Besides that. I hold that it’s a map. And if we want to assign it blame then what else is it at fault for? If I crash into traffic at 60 because Google didn’t warn me it had stopped ahead are they at fault?

If I speed because Google maps was wrong on the speed limit should they be liable for my ticket?

There are quite a few things to this that need to be considered before we start to hold a map and GPS liable.

As for Google not updating the map after a user report. It would be interesting to know how often they aren’t acted upon. I’m assuming some contract workers are the ones handling that kind of stuff.

David says:

Re: Re: Reasonable for who?

A contractor paid by the state or military for providing and maintaining navigatable maps? Possibly.

Someone providing a courtesy service financed by ads?

You’ll have a hard time spinning a legal theory from which you could derive any liability unless you can prove that the map was intentionally put or kept in a state that would trigger accidents. Like if you can prove there had been a betting pool for that specific place and situation at a responsible Google Maps office.

Ted the IT Guy (profile) says:

Possible victim of the community approval process?

Generally, major changes by community members on Google Maps require the approval of “higher-level” community members, aka “Local Guides” which can be uncommon in rural areas, so changes can go unapproved for a long time.

It took me years to reach a Local Guide level where I have enough clout to make bigger changes in my area without requiring extra approval. I think one would still need an additional approver to actually close a road. It took me 3 years to get a missing road (completely hidden in a wooded area) added.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Google Maps doesn’t certify that a route is safe. There could be deer in the road (common around me), a washed out road, flooding, severe potholes, road work, etc. It’s up to the driver and/or road owners to ensure safety.

Note that someone very well could have driven across that bridge without Google Maps. The road was dangerous and an accident waiting to happen whether or not Google Maps knew the bridge was out.

I think a large majority of the responsibility falls on the bridge owner. The owner only installed temporary barriers, which were out of commission due to vandalism. To not block it off permanently in 10 years is shocking. If I were the owner I’d put up improvised obstacles the same day and then put down some heavy duty metal or concrete barriers shortly after.

Anonymous Coward says:


To not block it off permanently in 10 years is shocking.

The picture shows the metal barriers are still spanning the water, despite large sections being attached to nothing. So one could’ve probably cut a different end of each and rotated them 90 degrees to block the openings. Screw each to a remaining post, install some dollar-store reflective tape, and it’s done. It wouldn’t take 10 minutes for someone who has a metal-cutting power tool and knows how to use it (well, 10 minutes plus however much time is spent crossing the water).

I’m sure that’s not up to interstate standards, but it’d probably be enough to protect the owner of a tiny rural road from a negligence suit.

Narcissus (profile) says:

Re: Re: barriers

Not removing the barriers is in itself negligent. Who would expect there to not be a road between 2 barriers?
Not saying it is great but at very bad visibility, like mist, blizzards or heavy rain, the barriers can be an important visual cue as to where the road is going.
There were, as far as I know, no additional problems with visibility besides it being dark, so the driver is a huge factor here. However, those barriers should’ve been removed a long time ago.

Violet Aubergine (profile) says:


All the things you mentioned are either unexpected incidents like a dead deer in the road or temporary such as a pothole. This bridge has been out for over a decade. This isn’t an unexpected incident or a minor temporary situation. Also, Waze, owned by Google, had the correct information at the time of the accident that the bridge was out. Bing Maps had the correct information at the time of the accident too. Google Maps still hasn’t corrected it and they were notified before and after the accident. Since fractional liability exists in America Google could easily be found liable for 10% of the damages while the property owner is found liable for 70% for not installing hard to move barriers and 20% to the local government for not acting after the property owner didn’t take the appropriate precautions to protect people’s lives.

Rich says:


Initially, Google should not be held any more liable than you or me if one of us had unknowingly given directions that included an absent bridge.

If the bridge is (was) on private property, then would not the driver be guilty of trespassing? (Ignorance is not an acceptable defense in the average court of law).

Google maps directing people to drive through private property might be a higher priority problem in need of immediate attention.

If Google was informed beforehand that the bridge was out, Google might have more of a problem, I would think.

I have certainly heard various versions of anecdotal cases where a private property owner has been held liable for injuries suffered by people trespassing, hell, even after breaking and entering to rob the place, so whoever owns the bridge and/or road that leads to it should probably warm up the checkbook.

Anonymous Coward says:


Google tries to route me through a private company’s fenced parking lot with guarded gate rather than drive on public streets every day when I go to work. It does however give a warning that the route includes private or restricted roads. I think the problem is there are enough people that have legitimate access that Google “sees” the road as mostly open to the public.

They could improve but if Google simply didn’t allow routing onto private roads then you could run into a situation where you are getting directions to a friend’s house and Google just tells you there isn’t route because all the roads in their neighborhood are technically private property of the HOA.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


If Google was informed beforehand that the bridge was out, Google might have more of a problem, I would think.

Google apparently was notified prior to the accident. But as the article notes, Google gets those kinds of reports all the time. It can’t comprehensively verify all of them. Besides, the responsibility for warning drivers about the bridge should lie with whoever is legally responsible for making sure the bridge couldn’t be reached⁠—and that isn’t Google.

Violet Aubergine (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

The bridge has been out over a decade. Google was warned before and after the accident and still hasn’t corrected it, that’s definitely going to qualify as negligent regardless of Google’s protestations that it can’t get everything correct even if their lesser funded competitors could in this instance. Whether it qualifies as actionable negligence is another matter a court will have to decide. Another person could literally die from the same stupidity. And this is definitely a situation where, since it was raining at night with no street lights, no person could have stopped in time even if they were driving 15 miles an hour because asphalt and negative space in the dark in the rain is going to look fairly similar until its too late. The driver might be at fault for driving recklessly but we have no idea how he was driving, for all we know he could have been going 15 mph and being extra cautious and still not seen the difference between negative space and asphalt in time to react to it.

Anonymous Coward says:


If the bridge is (was) on private property, then would not the driver be guilty of trespassing? (Ignorance is not an acceptable defense in the average court of law).

Ignorance of the property line can be a valid defense, and going onto private property is not necessarily trespassing. For example, it’s usually legal for a person to cross your front yard to knock on your door, unless signage prohibits it or you’d have to cross some overt barrier.

Some roads are privately owned but publically usable. Some of the roads near my local airport have a “priv.” suffix on the street signs, but no overt “private road” or “no trespassing” signs. People use them as normal roads, Google will route you over them, etc. It’s possible the road mentioned in the story is something like that.

Dan (profile) says:

I think it all depends...

For example, a company strives for 90+ world wide market share, even when their product doesn’t deserve it. Yet, another form of human stupidity… If they actually achieve that market share, is it really a free market/caveat emptor situation anymore?

How many fit that description, currently? Google everything, Microsoft, Adobe, Intuit, John Deere, every auto maker, and on and on…

“You can certainly control the world now if you want to, but you better not screw it up.”

If you think that someone could figure out how to hack Windows bank ATM software (Windows 9, I think) all over the planet, and Microsoft could get away with being not responsible because of an exception clause in the licensing, you’re fooling yourself. Someone {gov} would come down hard. TikTok blowing up is one thing. This is something else. The implications here are obvious.

If you want the benefit of being big boy, does that imply some liability of wearing big boy pants?

Certainly a good debate topic…

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Who is responsible / who gets sued

Mike wrote:

Normally, though, all liability falls on the driver to be aware of their own surroundings and the road ahead of them.

I think the word “Normally” implies there’s a point where a driver doesn’t have to maintain situational awareness. On public roadways that’s not a lawful option, but this is not a public roadway.

That leads to a discussion of what a driver’s “license” licenses one to do. It provides the privilege of driving on public roadways, but this is not a public roadway.

The deceased gentleman was driving dangerously (prima facie evidence of too-fast-for-conditions or insufficient-distance-for braking) on private property to which he was not given permission to enter nor transit. Those are two separate things, but they both speak well as to it not just being a simple matter where Google failed to take action, but that someone took it upon himself to:

  • Trespass upon private property
  • Drive in a reckless manner
  • Caused the death of an individual (himself)

Clearly the government has no say in this. It did not provide the driver with the privilege of driving on private roadways. It does not maintain this private roadway. It has neither “failed to place” nor “placed” any signage on this private roadway, all of which is how things work and not a violation of any requirement of the government.

Clearly the owner of the property isn’t required to go put signs out on some “no longer used path the bridge went out on years ago.” It’s his/her property and signage, like any other private decoration, is up to the owner to choose to display and erect.

Google didn’t reach out to the driver to say “Hey, buddy, it’s three AM and we know a shortcut so download our Maps app and give it a shot.” This adult smartphone owner made that decision on his own.

The driver chose to follow a smartphone map driving around in the pitch black night not looking at the road ahead. AC above suggested he was overdriving his headlights. One more checkmark for being at fault.

  • Not maintaining situational awareness
  • Blindly (literally) following a map, like reading while driving only worse
  • Trespassing on private property

It’s difficult not to victim blame here because his death is the direct result of his behavior, not a proximate non-causal “Hey don’t walk down that alley in a short skirt” situation. More like “Hey look where you’re driving; don’t go off public roadways without permission; don’t overdrive your situation.”

Google has no proximate cause here as they owe no duty to the driver.

I’m left with noone to take responsibility because the only responsible driver is dead. I’m sorry for his wife’s loss, and am understanding of the anger of those who reported the bridge out.

As a high-level guide myself I relate to the previous poster who is a high-level guide and explained even he would need others of his level to join in to remove (or in his case add) a road from/to the map. In any event, Google’s process is that of a private (i.e. nongovernmental) party electing how to run their nonregulated business – curating, displaying, and allowing their users to interact with maps.

Google can be sued. I doubt there is anyone that can be held liable who is alive.


Violet Aubergine (profile) says:


Since you and nobody else have any evidence as to what speed the driver was driving or what precautions he took you have no idea if he’s the only person responsible. You also have no evidence that he wasn’t paying attention to the road other than the fact an accident happened. That’s not evidence he wasn’t paying attention. The driver could easily be not responsible at all because the visual difference between black asphalt and empty space isn’t some easily noticeable thing in the dark at night. And fractional liability is a thing that exists, something Masnick should have mentioned, so Google can be find liable but then only ordered to cover 10% of the damages while 70% could be assigned to the property owner for not installing hard to move barriers leading them to being stolen by vandals and 20% to the local government for not putting proper barriers there if property owner didn’t. If the property owner had installed proper barriers, ones that can’t be easily moved, the accident wouldn’t have happened but somehow you’ve concluded only the driver is responsible. The property owner was negligent, the local government was negligent and Google was negligent, whether that negligence rises to a level where they can be held accountable for damages is another matter and a judge will have to adjudicate those facts and not some random person who has a vested interest in making Google look like they have no responsibility for what happened.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: [S]he who asserts must prove

Since you and nobody else have any evidence as to what speed the driver was driving or what precautions he took you have no idea if he’s the only person responsible.

Not sure what “only person resonsible” means. He drove his car and died. Only the drive is responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle as per NC law. Feel free to look it up.

He who asserts must prove. It’s up to she who filed the lawsuit to provide evidence, not those of us who observe the news of the event.
I’ll ignore where you say “You have no evidence” as none of us reading this have filed a lawsuit.

As to the rest of your unproved unevidenced rant, no, not at all.


And fractional liability is a thing that exists
For insurance and lawsuit payout purposes only, not in the real world.


The property owner was negligent.
Provide evidence. Negligent in what exactly?

  1. > the local government was negligent
    Provide evidence. Negligent in what exactly?


and Google was negligent, …
Negligent in what exactly?

  1. > a judge will have to adjudicate those facts
    No, judges are not arbiters of facts.


not some random person who has a vested interest in making Google look like they have no responsibility for what happened…
You’re the only random person here I see.

S[he] who asserts must prove.

Start proving. In your two posts thus far all you’ve convinced me is that you know nothing of the law, know nothing of the facts, but that SOMEONE MUST PAY. Someone did pay. He’s dead now. His wife is grieving. That doesn’t entitle her to a payout from everyone who could have prevented his death.

If you have evidence to support your claims, please bring it. Otherwise, your invectives and suggestions nobody knows anything and should be quiet in your presence fall flat.

Arizona. Our laws are similar to NC’s in this case.

Anonymous Coward says:


on private property to which he was not given permission to enter nor transit.

Not necessarily true. as such things as rights of way over private property to access other private property for access exist. The use of barriers, which were removed for repair, strongly suggest that it was an access road that anybody could use.

Anonymous Coward says:


someone took it upon himself to: Trespass upon private property

I posted the address in my reply to David. I think your statement is a stretch. All the roads in this area look like normal (albeit confusingly layed-out) public roads on the map and the street-view images.

If the roads are private, they’re likely open to public access. None of the street-view vehicles seem to have had any trouble getting in (and all have avoided driving into the water). I don’t see any gates or “no trespassing” signs. The streets don’t have “private” in their names.

Were I looking at a map and planning my own route, I’d tend to stick to major roads, which these ones obviously are not. I don’t see any other red flags.

It’s [the owner’s] property and signage, like any other private decoration, is up to the owner to choose to display and erect.

Look up the address and tell me which of the adjacent properties (if any) the roadway would be part of, and how anyone would be expected to know this. I’m not familiar with the laws of that specific area, but it’s bad advice to say that property owners can simply decide against signage and barriers. Where I am, for example, it would be very illegal to have a swimming pool not fenced off, and I’d be in serious trouble if a kid wandered onto my private property and drowned in it. Even if they’d stolen my “no trespassing” sign and were found with it.

Similarly, if a postal service truck falls into an old sinkhole while driving up the private farm road to my mailbox, I don’t imagine a court would be happy to hear as an excuse: “that’s a private road”, or “I didn’t ask for that mail”. People are not expected to bring a complete land-surveying team on every road trip.

Violet Aubergine (profile) says:

I’m really disappointed this article didn’t mention fractional liability. A trial can legally determine that, for instance, 80% of the responsibility is the property owner who didn’t install barriers that couldn’t easily be moved/stolen by vandals, 15% is the local government for not insuring barriers were in place if the property owner didn’t put them there and 5% belongs to Google for not updating its maps. Too many people in the comments are arguing about who is ultimately responsible but that’s not how it works. Not mentioning this allows people to conveniently think since Google has the least liability, obviously, they shouldn’t be held responsible for their negligence. Other facts missing: Waze, owned by Google, had the correct information that the bridge was out at the time of the accident. Bing Maps also had the right information at the time of the accident. Competitors maps knew the correct information and Google was warned their incorrect information was dangerous. Whether or not Google is responsible will be decided by a court but it’s definitely not clear cut Google isn’t responsible and that’s why they’re being sued with the other people. And because they can found liable just not for 100% of the damages because, clearly, Google isn’t the primary reason this happened. Nonetheless, if their map information was correct it would have never routed the driver over the bridge and he would in turn would have never died because he would have taken a different, safe route.

Also, another article point, the picture Masnick used to make his assumptions wasn’t taken from the time of year of the accident and were in fact taken at a different time of the year when vegetation would be more prevalent.

Finally, we don’t know what speed the driver was driving or what precautions he took. Given that it was night, with no street lights and it was raining an out bridge could easily not be seen until it’s too late. This was nowhere near the driving into the lake during daylight scene in The Office. Everybody pretending it couldn’t happen to them because they’re safe drivers are deluding themselves as attentive, safe drivers die all the time in accidents. Less often than inattentive drivers, for sure, but being a safe driver isn’t a magic talisman against the chaos of life that cannot be predicted like driving in the dark in the rain and not seeing a bridge is out until its too late. You can pretend you have preternatural skills and would’ve seen it because you’re such a safe driver but reality says otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:


Given that it was night, with no street lights and it was raining an out bridge could easily not be seen until it’s too late.

Which all comes down to rule one, if you cannot stop in the distance you can see, you are driving too fast.

safe drivers die all the time in accidents

Mainly due to other drivers, and less often due to mechanical failure.

Glen says:

Last November, I was using Google maps to get to a location in the mountains. The road kept getting worse and worse. I finally decided it wasn’t worth it and turned around. Come to find out it was taking me on what was basically a sheep trail that somehow found its way onto maps. Long and short of it, I was the one to make the decision to turn around. I was able to get out of there with a vehicle intact.

Gary Fretch says:

I think Google in this case will be held liable

Usually I agree with Techdirt that many of these internet laws are unconstitutional and violate section 230 to which corrupt politicians who realize the internet has exposed them for what they are which is liars so they will use children or any means to push the internet to silence free speech.

However Google was warned about this and has not updated there Google map in 9 years and are considered the number #1 free GPS app and have been warned not just about this no bridge in North Carolina Problem but others as well. Waze does a much better job and is a smaller company compared to Google. Section 230 will not spare Google. They were warned about the issue for Google maps they ignored it so they will be held liable in the end in my personal opinion as someone who trained in constitutional law at John Jay University. We will see if I am right

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:


After what interval of time does responsibility transfer from the driver to the map provider what the driver drives into a non mapped hazard? It is up to the driver to drive in a safe fashion, and it does not matter if the bridge fell down 5 minutes before he tried to cross it, of it fell down 50 years ago, it was his lack of awareness or dangerous driving that led to the accident.

ke9tv (profile) says:

Google and other map providers largely depend on highway departments, rather than their own surveys, for the alignment and status of roads.

I suspect here that some highway department had this private road in its database, and that even if Google did act promptly to remove the collapsed bridge (whether it did or not is in dispute), the next updated copy of the database from the highway department would have put it back in. How, after all, is Google to tell without conducting a field survey itself, whether the update is restoring old, incorrect data, or indicating that the bridge has, in fact, been restored?

On top of that, it appears that the developer that owned the private road is a dissolved corporation. Whether the road was part of the bankruptcy estate and a bankruptcy trustee can be identified who is responsible for maintaining it in its safe condition, or whether adjacent homeowners have undivided interest in the right-of-way and are responsible, or whether the responsibility devolved onto the government is going to be a hard question to sort out.

I’ve seen some speculation that, since the driver was local, he may, in fact, have known about the collapsed bridge, and that the death could have been attributable to suicide. Vehicular suicide may be commoner than otherwise suspected. One study of a relatively small cohort (30 patients) in alcohol rehab showed that patients who had suicidal ideation as a comorbidity had a history of twice as many automobile accidents as patients without that comorbidity.

Updates submitted by the public have to be vetted somehow. Otherwise, every homeowner who is disturbed by the traffic volume on their road will submit an update to Google that the road is impassable and the map will fail. If every map provider is required to field-verify every update, then doing so promptly is probably beyond the resources of even Alphabet. If the suit goes against Alphabet, the result will devolve into “and this is why we can’t have nice things.”

A tough case, and there’s an ancient legal proverb, “tough cases make bad law.”

Anonymous Coward says:


How, after all, is Google to tell without conducting a field survey itself, whether the update is restoring old, incorrect data, or indicating that the bridge has, in fact, been restored?

For what it’s worth, they did conduct that field survey. In other words, they updated Google Street View. It just took them about 10.5 years, which is probably reasonable for “the middle of nowhere” considering they’re trying to map the world.

Anonymous Coward says:

I notice several things from the complaint:

a) At no time does the word “private” appear. As in, private road, private land, private waterway, etc. This will have strong bearing on who is finally responsible.

b) The first several pages are emotional (i.e. tear jerkers) portraying a man now missing from his family’s life. This is craven, and has no place at this stage of the proceedings. One is supposed to play this card in front of a jury, not at the initial filing.

c) For all but one of them, we don’t know the dates of those photos, they are captioned only as “taken after the accident”, and that will also have bearing. Stated above by another AC above, there should be less vegetation in late Autumn, and I can’t agree with that. In point of fact, such vegetation as is visible would most definitely be present at the time of accident (although nearly invisible in the dark, and somewhat below the line of sight, in that he was coming from the foreground area (look at the photo showing the placement of the vehicle) because this is directly over a river…. as in, water is readily available to those plantings – it creeps up the banks and feeds anything that wants to grow, no problem. For that matter, how did the bridge get washed out in the first place? Water, plain and simple.

I also note something else, namely that no one has mentioned whether or not there was autopsy. From this fact, I can’t learn if the man was under the influence, or if he had a heart attack or stroke, or anything else of that nature. The complaint does state that he was in “excellent health”, but that’s not inronclad – there’s a reason why say “shit happens”. Other health factors might also come to light that could impact the case.

And finally, remember: you are licensed by Google to use their products and/or services, but you are not licensed to sue them for your reliance upon such products or services, should local conditions warrant otherwise. I’m not gonna wade through all of their mumbo-jumbo legalese, but I’ll bet that it’s buried in the TOU, probably on page 153, in 2 point type.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Government and lawsuits

YAAC write:

The county or state may still be sued. Just because they don’t take responsibility doesn’t make them immune. (No, sovereign immunity does!)

Everyone “may” still be sued. Filing a lawsuit is trivial. That doesn’t, however, in any way, create a presumption that the county or the state is responsible for these events on private property. Hint: It does not.

Government does not sign private land. Government does not regulate private land beyond its right of use laws (e.g. zoning laws). If a “path” is there, it’s not government’s to regulate nor require signage nor to onerously intervene themselves to put some there.

In sum, yes, government can be sued, but no, not for any good reason here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yeah… I won’t be surprised if the RIAA has been absolutely slavering at the chops for a case like this to show up. If Google can be held liable for not completely scrubbing their systems based on a single point of complaint and one instance of someone fucking up, I think we can expect a fresh deluge of copyright cases from the maximalists.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

ah wordpress

1. When quoting one line, the next line should not be part of that quote.
2. When numbering, paras in quotes should not affect numbering outside of quotes.
3. Neither of the above should double the vertical length of the post either by requiring extra empty lines or by inserting them. This is where markup is preferable because …quote… …endquote… markers are superior to …greater…than… who knows where that block ends.

DallasWonder (profile) says:

Liability Waiver

I expected the article to go through the terms of service agreement for Google products to find the liability waiver. I was pleasantly surprised that the agreement was actually up front about not being able to waive gross negligence or willful misconduct. Many agreements pretend that they can waive all liability. Even so, proving gross negligence or willful misconduct will be an uphill climb.

JBDragon (profile) says:


So this is a private road? I think people really need to use their brains a whole lot more. If it’s a private road, you shouldn’t be driving on it in the first place unless you know the person(s) who live on that road and are there to visit. I have my Mom and a brother who live off of private roads.

You can never trust any GPS 100%. They are not perfect. They have errors. They route you in dumb ways. I always go and look at the route the GPS wants to route me and see if it makes sense. That it is actually routing me to where I need to go. I also look where I’m driving.

I’ve heard of the GPS telling a person to make a right turn and they end up turning onto train tracks instead of that right turn just past the train tracks. Really, you couldn’t see those tracks??? Talking aobut not using your brain at all.

If I’m heading to what is supposed to be a bridge but don’t see a bridge. I’m not just going to keep on driving in hope my eyes are lying to me. Or you’re doing 100MPH on this road and don’t have time to stop over a small bridge that doesn’t exist and didn’t have enough time to stop.

I’ve gone over many single-wide bridges and normally you go SLOW and you have to make sure there isn’t someone coming the other way first. This is no one’s fault but the driver!!!! It sucks, but it is what it is. People do dumb things all the time. It doesn’t matter how many warning signs you put up, someone is going to find a way to go ops anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:


If it’s a private road, you shouldn’t be driving on it in the first place unless you know the person(s) who live on that road and are there to visit.

The address was posted above. If it’s private, it’s probably in the sense of that bullshit government buzzward “privatization” (it never worked before, but it’ll be great this time!). Go look at the maps and street views and tell us why it looks like somewhere one shouldn’t drive. To me, it looks like a normal part of the area’s street network.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Post the link

Go look at the maps and street views and tell us why it looks like somewhere one shouldn’t drive. To me, it looks like a normal part of the area’s street network.

To you WHAT looks like a normal part. I’ve looked. I even posted two Google map links.

POST THE LINK. Until then you’re just making up shit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Your map links, and any of the other (valid) addresses that were posted (one of which shows the stub of the bridge), and any nearby areas. Look them up in Google or Bing; as map, aerial, or streetside views; whatever helps you or anyone make the point that this was trespassing. I haven’t yet found any indication that these are closed to public use. It’d take one link to prove me wrong, but I could provide 20 and it wouldn’t prove me right (a “no trespassing” sign could always be just out of view).

Okay, one of your links has a “state maintenance ends” sign visible. A little black-on-white horizontal sign at 3924 24th St Pl NE, where the pavement is a little bit lighter in color on the other side. It hardly screams “keep out”; it could just as well mean that a regional or city government manages it, or a private company manages it and lets everyone use it (like shopping center driveways and parking lots).

Numbered streets can be found in any town. Typically they’d be more grid-like; but cul-de-sacs, crescents, and other streets “going nowhere” are a common feature of suburbia. There are like 4 schools in the Snow Creek area (spread across both sides, and presumably public), a pool, and various businesses. No visible barriers. That’s what I mean by “normal”. It’s not, like, an obvious enclave with only one or two connection to city streets. (Some such areas are visible east of the creek, like the streets named “Kool Park Mobile Home Park” and “Thunderbird Mobile Home Park”. Both are missing from Bing’s street view, and Thunderbird has prominent signs at either entrance—which are too blurry to read, but could say “no trespassing”.)

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