When Directions Are Bad, Who’s Liable?

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A pedestrian is suing Google over the walking directions supplied by Google Maps.  Seeking to walk from 96 Daly Street to 1710 Prospector Avenue in  Park City, Utah, Lauren Rosenberg used her Blackberry to access directions on Google Maps.  The walk on January 19, 2009 was ill-fated with about half a mile of the route being suggested along Deer Valley Drive which is also known as State Route 224, a rural highway.  Lauren Rosenberg unfortunately was hit by a car during that walk and is now suing both Patrick Harwood, the person driving the car that hit her, and Google, Inc. for damages.

Defendant Google, through its “Google Maps” service provided Plaintiff Lauren Rosenberg with walking directions that led her out onto Deer valley Drive, a.k.a. State Route 224, a rural highway with no sidewalks, and a roadway that exhibits motor vehicles traveling at high speeds, that is not reasonably safe for pedestrians.

This case, which was filed on May 27, 2010 in Utah, of course brings up a discussion about personal common sense versus the liability of those providing directions.  There are too many examples of people not using common sense and exercising personal judgement when following directions provided by online mapping and GPS navigation devices.

Accessing the directions online, Google Map warns, “Walking directions are in beta. Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.”  The Blackberry version merely warns “Walking directions (beta): use caution.”

The online version for Google's walking directions notes that some sections of the route may be missing pedestrian pathways or sidewalks.
Google's Blackberry mapping application doesn't contain the full caution of "This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths."

It will be up to the judge to determine if common sense should prevail over blindly following directions.  On a related side note, I’m curious to know how well the term “beta” is understood.  Would the average user know that the walking directions for Google Maps are still being developed?  Not to mention understand the uneven quality of routing data.  This all swings back to the need to balance following directions with common sense.  (via Search Engine Land)

With the anticipation over the direction of this lawsuit over Google’s walking directions, comes a renewed debate over who is liable, the human or the computer, when making a journey with the guide of computerized directions.  Most of the stories to date over wayward travelers involve those blindly following GPS navigation directions while driving.  Cases involving drivers that ran into trouble while following driving directions seem to end up with the liability falling on the driver and not the navigation system.

In 2008, Bo Bai, a computer technician from California, was using his rental car’s GPS navigation system to drive to Saw Mill River Parkway in New York’s Westchester County.  While crossing a set of train tracks, his navigation system instructed him to turn right which Bo Bai did.  Unfortunately that right led him directly onto the train tracks where his car became stuck.  An oncoming train was not able to stop in time and collided with the stuck vehicle.  Despite his claim that he was following the navigation system’s direction, Bo Bai was cited and held liable in the incident.

In the United Kingdom, a driver was convicted of careless driving in 2009 despite claiming, “I was only following satnav orders.” Robert Jones insisted on driving his car down a narrow cliffside path after being directed to do so by his Tom Tom navigation system.

What happens if you drive your car down a cliffside dirt path.

In Seattle, Washington, a bus driver was cited for “hitting a structure with impaired clearance” and given a $154 ticket after driving his bus under a too low pedestrian bridge after being directed to follow that route by  his GPS unit.

On April 2, 2008, a Pittsburgh couple tried to sue Google over invasion of privacy after Google’s Street View captured an image of their home.  Via the Smoking Gun:

Aaron and Christine Boring accuse Google of an “intentional and/or grossly reckless invasion” of their seclusion and privacy since they live on a street that is “clearly marked with a ‘Private Road’ sign,” according to a lawsuit the couple filed this week in Allegheny County’s Court of Common Pleas.

The couple sought $25,000 in damages, claiming that the photos had devalued their home.  On February 17, 2009, the lawsuit was dismissed by a judge of the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania who reasoned that the couple had “failed to state a claim under any count.”

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