Anticipating a failure to warn lawsuit?

On January 19, 2009, Lauren Rosenberg was walking along a section of Utah State Route 224 when she was hit and injured by a driver. Predictably, Rosenberg is suing the driver in tort. Less predictably, she’s also suing Google. How is Google involved, you ask? Well, Rosenberg claims that she wouldn’t have been walking along the busy highway but for the “walking directions” she obtained from Google Maps on her Blackberry:

As a direct and proximate cause of Defendant Google’s careless, reckless, and negligent providing of unsafe directions, Plaintiff Lauren Rosenberg was led onto a dangerous highway, and was thereby stricken by a motor vehicle . . .

A review of the route taken by Rosenberg confirms that it indeed advises the user to walk along the highway for 0.6 miles, although it warns the user to “Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths” (it is unclear whether such a warning appears on mobile devices).

But of course the real question here is more likely to be asked during, “Really!?! with Seth and Amy” than in a courtroom. For Google’s part, it has strong arguments to defeat Rosenberg’s claims on one of two grounds:

First, Google can argue that no duty to protect Rosenberg existed. Walking directions are still a developing technology (Google classifies them as Beta), and there is an implication that they are not meant to be exact. Indeed, Google calls them “suggested routes,” and taking them at face value can have some interesting consequences.

Second, Google can argue that even if a duty exists (and even if Google breached it), Rosenberg was contributorily negligent for failing to exercise common sense. When Rosenberg reached the highway and saw this, perhaps that would have been the time to take control of her chose route and ask a gas station attendant how to get there. Imagine what your mother would say: If Google told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?

Of course, personal injury lawyers usually don’t let common sense get in the way of a lawsuit, so don’t be surprised if Google’s walking directions soon come with a “Caution: Coffee is Hot” warning.

Kevin Lumpkin

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