Hickory, NC

Widow Sues After GPS Leads Driver To Death

sj writes

The widow of the driver who followed GPS to his death sues Google, the bridge owner.

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On a stormy evening in September 2022, a father of two girls was driving home from his daughter’s 9th birthday party at a friend’s house in Hickory, North Carolina, when Google Maps apparently led him to his death, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Philip Paxson, a 47-year-old Navy veteran, had been driving his Jeep on Sept. 30 after the birthday party, which was camp-themed after inclement weather forced them to cancel their camping plans that weekend, when Google allegedly led him to a bridge that has been inoperative since heavy flooding in July 2013 destroyed it, the complaint states.

"It's been almost a year since Phil's death, and it still doesn't seem real," Phil Paxson’s wife, Alicia Paxson, said during a Wednesday press conference. "I just struggle every day to understand how something so unimaginable and horrific could be allowed to happen. I still don't have the answer. To tell my daughters, I don't have the answers to the question, ‘Why is Daddy gone and why isn't he coming back?’ I don't know how to explain this life-shattering tragedy that could have been so easily prevented."

Alicia added that it is "impossible to comprehend how those responsible for Google Maps GPS misdirection and the neglected, unbarricaded, collapsed bridge could have just such disregard and negligence for human life."

Alicia is also suing Hickory businessman James Tarlton and the companies Tarde LLC and Hinckley Gauvain LLC as the owners of the collapsed bridge, which is located at 24th Street Place NE in Hickory and is otherwise known as the Snow Creek Bridge. The developers allegedly sold their property in the area but "never turned the roads over to the North Carolina Department of Transportation," according to an investigation conducted by attorneys Robert Zimmerman, Larry Bendesky, and Michael Benz.

The owners "refused to properly maintain the bridge, leaving it in a horrendously dangerous state of disrepair for years" and "refused to place reasonable and proper barricades in front of the hazard," the complaint states.

A 2014 article titled "BRIDGE TO NOWHERE: No resolution in sight for the neighborhood's gaping hole," published in the Hickory Record, stated that the bridge was "still in disrepair" eight months after flooding had destroyed it in 2013. Nothing had changed in nine years since Paxson’s death and 10 years since publication. Over the years, locals put concrete barricades and cones around the collapsed bridge in an effort to deter drivers, but that evening on Sept. 30, 2022, Paxson could not see the barricades and drove off the 20-foot drop that the Snow Creek Bridge once covered.

On the night of his death, Alicia drove to their friend’s house early before their daughter’s birthday party to help set up. Phil followed soon after with both of his daughters but stayed later to help clean up while his wife and children drove home. The Paxson family had recently moved to Hickory from Florida after Phil was promoted, so he was unfamiliar with the area at the time of his death, the lawsuit states.

His house was about a 10-minute drive from the home where his daughter’s birthday party was being hosted, and he input his home address into Google Maps on the evening of Sept. 30 to get back, according to the lawsuit.

We have the deepest sympathies for the Paxson family," Google spokesperson José Castañeda said in a statement to Fox News Digital. "Our goal is to provide accurate routing information in maps, and we are reviewing this lawsuit." Zimmerman noted during Wednesday’s press conference that multiple Google Maps users have submitted complaints to Google about the collapsed bridge over the years.

In fact, on Sept. 22, 2022, just days before Phil’s death, a Google Maps user alerted the app to the collapsed bridge by using its "suggest an edit" feature. Google responded by saying, "Thanks for your report near 24th St. Pl. SE," in acknowledgment of the user’s note, according to the complaint. Still, the route was apparently never corrected to go around the bridge.

"Those responsible for our roadways need to know that inaction has consequences," he said. "We believe that when someone develops a neighborhood, it doesn't end when they sell the house. We allege that there needs to be a responsible maintenance plan in place if the roads are not going to be turned over to the new North Carolina Department of Transportation."

Zimmerman added that "when something as dangerous as an unguarded 20-foot cliff is in the middle of a neighborhood, it must be repaired, and it must be guarded until those repairs are made."

There is "no good reason" the collapsed bridge and 20-foot canyon drop should have been "allowed to exist for nine years and 10 years to this day," he said. As of April 6 of this year, Google Maps continued to direct users over the Snow Creek Bridge, the lawsuit states, along with a screenshot of the route on that date. An obituary for Phil states 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 equally, 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."

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