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Tilting the Scales Business Issues with a Legal Slant

Is Google Maps Responsible for Bad Directions?

Posted in *Weighing In - IMHO, Social Media & The Internet

Gunter Ongway lives in a suburb of Dallas and does not have a car.  In preparation for his fantasy football draft (which is to take place at a local restaurant), Gunter uses Google Maps to find walking directions to the restaurant.  Directions in hand, Gunter sets out on his journey across town following Google’s directions carefully.  However those directions lead Gunter to walk along a narrow six lane highway (without sidewalks) where he is struck by the side mirror of a passing vehicle.  Gunter is injured badly and sues Google alleging that his injuries were caused by Google negligently providing him with unsafe directions.  Does Gunter have a case?

Probably not.  To prove a case for negligence in Texas, Gunter must first show that Google owed him a legal duty.  In determining whether a duty exists, courts will look at many factors including the legal relationship between the parties, the foreseeability of injury, the likelihood of injury and other public policy concerns.  In all likelihood, a court would find that no special relationship existed between Gunter and Google so as to impose a legal duty.  As Google provides directions to Gunter as well as countless other users, the relationship between Google and Gunter is too attenuated to impose any duty on Google.  Furthermore, even if Gunter was able to clear the duty “hurdle,” it is quite possible that a jury would find that his recovery was barred by his own negligence.  In Texas, Gunter would be barred from a negligence-based recovery, if a jury found that his negligence (and failure to use common sense by avoiding a six lane highway without sidewalks) contributed to more than 50% of the accident.

A lawsuit similar to the fact pattern above was filed last year in a Utah district court by Lauren Rosenberg against Google and Patrick Howard, the driver who hit her.  A copy of the complaint can be found at justia.com.