Philip Paxson, 47, was driving home from his daughter’s ninth birthday party on Sept. 30, 2022, before he drove off a crumbled bridge in Hickory, N.C. The bridge reportedly washed away in 2013, though there was no signage or barricade to alert drivers of its decrepit state.
Paxson’s family sued Google for negligence on Tuesday, claiming the company failed to update its maps accordingly. Three local private property management companies are also being sued as part of the lawsuit, which alleges they had a duty of care to maintain the bridge.
A representative for Google said the company is currently reviewing the allegations. The rep said Google has “the deepest sympathies for the Paxson family.”
At the time of Paxson’s death, his mother-in-law wrote in a Facebook post that incorrect GPS coordinates led the father of two to the damaged bridge on a “dark and rainy night.”
“He was following his GPS which led him down a concrete road to a bridge that dropped off into a river,” wrote Linda McPhee Koenig. “The bridge had been destroyed 9 years ago and never repaired.”
His family has called the incident an “avoidable tragedy.”
Paxson’s 2020 Jeep Gladiator was found upside-down and partially submerged in the water the following day under the collapsed bridge. Paxson’s wife said she and their two daughters left the birthday party earlier, while Paxson stayed behind to help clean up. He was reportedly unfamiliar with the area where he was driving.
The new lawsuit claimed Paxson drove off an unguarded edge and crashed about 20 feet (over six metres) below.
The family, through their lawyers, alleged many local residents in the Hickory area had on several occasions requested Google amend its maps to account for the collapsed bridge. Email records included in the lawsuit claim Google sent confirmation to one resident who told the company that Maps was directing people to the dangerous bridge.
“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’s wife Alicia told The Associated Press.
It is not entirely clear who is responsible for the road with the washed-away bridge. At the time of Paxson’s death, the North Carolina State Patrol said the bridge was managed by local officials. The company that developed the road dissolved several years earlier.
A GoFundMe page was established after Paxson’s death to help the family pay for the unexpected funeral costs. As of this writing, nearly US$45,000 has been donated.
In an update shared to the GoFundMe page on Wednesday, Paxson’s family wrote that they are still grieving the “horrific tragedy.”
“No outcome can ever bring Phil back or begin to fill the hole that he left in so many hearts, but we will continue to fight to hold those responsible for Phil’s death accountable and ensure there is no further senseless loss of life.”