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Google sued for negligence after man drove off collapsed bridge while following map directions

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The family of a North Carolina man who died after driving his car off a collapsed bridge while following Google Maps directions is suing the technology giant for negligence, claiming it had been informed of the collapse but failed to update its navigation system.

Philip Paxson, a medical device salesman and father of two, drowned Sept. 30, 2022, after his Jeep Gladiator plunged into Snow Creek in Hickory, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Wake County Superior Court. Paxson was driving home from his daughter’s ninth birthday party through an unfamiliar neighborhood when Google Maps allegedly directed him to cross a bridge that had collapsed nine years prior 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.

State troopers who found Paxton'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 20 feet below, according to the lawsuit.

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 an 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.

“We have the deepest sympathies for the Paxson family," Google spokesperson José Castañeda told The Associated Press. "Our goal is to provide accurate routing information in Maps and we are reviewing this lawsuit.”

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Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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