Attorney In Google Maps Lawsuit: It Was Dark; She Thought Google Was Leading Her To Sidewalk

I’ve spoken to the lead attorney in the case involving the woman who blames Google, in part, for directing her onto a highway where she was struck by a vehicle. Expressing amazement at the “firestorm” of attention the case has garnered, he explained some of the reasoning putting some of the blame on Google.

Our prior story, Woman Follows Google Maps “Walking” Directions, Gets Hit, Sues, covers how Lauren Rosenberg was struck by a vehicle as she walked between two locations in Park City, Utah. Using her BlackBerry phone, she’d used Google Maps and its “walking directions” feature to generate a route. Those directions sent her down “Deer Valley Drive,” an alternative name for Utah State Route 224. She was struck on that highway.

My key question for her attorney, Allen K. Young of firm Young, Kester & Petro, was the same that many reading about the case seem to have. Didn’t she know the road was unsafe for pedestrians, as she started walking on it?

“It was 6 in the morning. It was not a busy street [then]. She believed there was a sidewalk on the other side,” Young said.

In fact, Rosenberg never reached the other side. She left the end of Main Street to cross to the far side of Deer Valley Drive / State Route 224 and was struck while crossing. Here’s a view of the intersection from Google Maps:

“She was in an area that she’d never been to before. It was pitch black. There were no street lights. She relied on Google that she’d cross there and go down to a sidewalk,” Young said.

Ironically, had Rosenberg not been directed to cross, she could have continued along the route walking against traffic but separated from it on a dirt path, Young said. That’s part of the reason for the suit claiming Google to be partially at fault.

“Google had shots of the corner there. Had they looked at that, they would have realized,” Young said.

The shots Young is talking about are the “Street View” street-level photography such as shown above. Of course, Google doesn’t actually review the Street View photography to determine if a “walking” route that it plots is safe. Instead, to my knowledge, it uses an algorithm to make a best guess based on known walking paths and other data. As Google wrote when announcing the service in July 2008:

Walking directions are a new feature for Google, and while I’m pretty excited about it, there are some rough edges that compel us to release it in “beta.” Walking directions work well for short trips in urban areas, but we don’t always know if a street has a sidewalk, or if there’s actually a special pedestrian bridge for crossing a busy street. There are still a lot of pedestrian pathways we don’t know about, and they might save you some time if you find them. We’re working on collecting new data on pedestrian pathways and on more effective ways to solicit your feedback, so that we can steadily improve this feature and get you where you need to be as efficiently as possible….

…. Please be careful, and be particularly attentive in high traffic areas. Just like if you were driving, follow road signs and signals along your route, and use good judgment about streets that can’t be walked (there are many useful websites containing safety tips for pedestrians).

Still, Google does offer the service. And as I wrote on Friday, perhaps it would be better off not offering walking directions that can be so wrong, rather than generating embarrassing misdirections or worse, as has happened now, opening itself up to legal action.

“We look at it and say if they’re [Google] going to tell people where to go, they need to have some responsibility to warn them that that might not be the way to go,” Young said.

Google does currently warn that walking directions are in “beta” and to:

Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.

However, these are only for directions generated by those using its regular web site. Those using mobile versions of Google Maps, don’t appear to get such warnings. When I tested on Friday using my iPhone, I didn’t see a warning. Young also said his client got no warning on her BlackBerry when she was hit, on January 19, 2009. He also said that back then, Google did not offer warnings on its regular site.

I’m not sure when or why Google apparently belatedly added warnings to Google Maps. I’m still waiting to hear back from Google on that and some other questions.

Young said that in Utah, a jury can find against a plaintiff even if they are deemed only partially responsible. So perhaps a jury will find Google to be only 5% at fault in the accident, for example. If so, the Google would be responsible for that much of any claim, if Rosenberg should win, Young said. The case seeks at least $100,000 in damages

But still, isn’t there a role for common sense? The intersection itself had no crosswalk, as Young himself admits. Shouldn’t Rosenberg herself have some responsibility to judge where it was safe to walk or cross?

“I have told everyone that I think a jury will find some culpability on her part,” Young said — as well as some on the part of the driver the suit says hit her, and Google itself.

As for the case itself, he expressed amazement over the amount of interest and commentary it has generated.

“I’ve not spoken with Google. I merely filed the complaint. I had no idea the firestorm it would cause,” Young said.

Young is also set to give a statement to the press tomorrow at 9am Utah time at the Salt Lake City law offices of Snow, Christensen & Martineau. That law firm isn’t connected with the case. Young is simply making use of a conference room there.

Postscript: Heard back from Google PR now, which tells me via email:

We have had warning text since launch – July 08 on desktop, November 08 on mobile. Due to screen real estate, the mobile beta warning is a bit shorter, but it says “Walking directions (beta): Use caution” and usually shows up with the first step in your directions list.

Here’s an example of how the warning looks to BlackBerry users, from a screenshot Google sent to me:

This is why I missed spotting the directions when I checked my iPhone. I was expecting them to somehow appear next to the route itself, on the map. Instead, it appears as you click to see the text instructions of the route.

Google also told me they know of no other lawsuits of this type that have ever been served against them. As for comments on the case itself, I was

We haven’t been served yet, so we can’t comment on the specific merits, but in general we offer the beta warning as an extra indication that users should exercise caution and judgement – and we also, on desktop, have an additional note below directions that they are for planning purposes only (ie, we do not tell you to stop at red lights or not drive in a carpool-only lane).

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://twitter.com/MichelleObama7 Clifford Bryan

    This is a tough one. The disclaimer is rather vague in the web warning. The mobile version of Google maps “walking directions” had no warning. Of course the plaintiff is partially to blame I would think for not using good judgement. Would a “reasonable” person continue down this route? I think Google should pay her and then strengthen the wording on their warnings section. Maybe I’m biased, I got totally lost using Google maps the other day.

  • adamryp

    I don’t think this suit has any merit at all from a common sense standpoint. I think it should be considered common sense that you use tools like Google Maps to give you information, but that you are 100% responsible for any decisions that you make based on it.

    Based on what the lawyer said, the mistake in Google Maps didn’t really even matter. If Google had been correct and there HAD been a sidewalk on the other side of the road, she STILL would have crossed and gotten hit!

    What would be next? Suing when meteorologists make mistakes in forecasting the weather?

  • mellowmedia

    @Clifford Bryan I’m sorry, I totally disagree with your informed opinion.

    Why isn’t she suing the state for lack of a sidewalk, or poor street lighting?
    She clearly didn’t use common sense; a sensible person would take more precautions in an area they are not familiar with.

    Should I sue Google for RSI because they ‘created’ the search industry?

  • http://jeffsreviews.com jeffopus

    So if I ask a neighbor directions and get hit by a car following his directions I can sue them?
    Does anyone know where Steve Jobs Lives?

  • Biker-74

    Why not? If she can get Money from it, then why not try?

    Moral or responsibility has got nothing to do with it. Money does.

    Biker-74

  • cas@wws

    Here’s the thing …. And they don’t seem to teach it anymore. But, it is a general “rule of the road” and it may even be on some state and local road regulations still.

    Back in the day when your parents, schools, and towns taught things like bicycle and pedestrian safety – the local police and my parents ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS told us kids to “walk against traffic” and “ride your bicycle with traffic.” I am absolutely amazed at how most people do not know this anymore.

    So, the fact that per the above article .. “Ironically, had Rosenberg not been directed to cross, she could have continued along the route walking against traffic but separated from it on a dirt path, Young said. That’s part of the reason for the suit claiming Google to be partially at fault.”

    While I really feel awful that this person was hit by a car — she was technically wrong — because you are always supposed to walk against traffic — unless there are sidewalks that indicate otherwise. This is so you can see when something is going to hit you rather than being surprised when it hits you from behind.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com George Michie

    Did anyone ever successfully sue Rand-McNally for misdirecting them? It seems like most physical maps and their manufacturers could be liable as well if Google is here.

    Many times roads on physical maps are one-way but often that isn’t noted on the map. Is the map-maker at fault for someone turning the wrong way on a one-way street because the map didn’t warn them?

    I’m all for holding companies accountable when they screw-up, but this strikes me as ridiculous. I hope the judge tosses it before Google writes a check to make it go away. Sadly, juries tend to award damages to injured people regardless of the big company’s culpability.

  • http://walking.about.com walkingguide

    The screenshots of the Walking Directions she was following DID NOT tell her to cross the road. It said to turn left, that is all.

    By custom, we in the USA walk on the LEFT side of the road facing traffic when there isn’t a sidewalk. That would be the default I would assume from directions that didn’t tell me to cross the road.

    She took it upon herself to decide to cross the road in hopes that there was a sidewalk there. Google didn’t tell her to cross. Google didn’t say there was a sidewalk on the other side. If she had used the Street View that Google provides, she could have seen there was no sidewalk.

    She obviously didn’t give herself enough time to cross when there was traffic approaching, as she got struck while crossing the road. Even if there was a sidewalk on the other side, she probably still would have been struck.

    So — she walks at night on an unfamiliar route relying ONLY on directions that she misinterprets and reads things into that aren’t there. She doesn’t provide a reasonable timing to cross the road to get out of the way of traffic at an unlighted intersection where there is no painted crosswalk. And somebody ELSE is to blame?

    Even if Google provided comments to use caution, would she have?

  • http://infiniteinjury.org Peter Gerdes

    So I’m not even convinced that google has any duty of care to this person. I mean it seems to me the claim is that google failed to take the affirmitive action of also advising the users of it’s service when there would and would not be sidewalks. I don’t believe that google maps ever states there are sidewalks to it’s hard to see that there is any defect in the product (Tort law is quite clear that mere failure to warn of danger is not enough in the usual situation). Indeed, you can walk the way google suggested the lady walk nor did they make any promise about sidewalks upon which she relied. So maybe someone who is a lawyer can tell me if google even owes a duty of care in this case.

    Of course tort law has little to do with common sense or reasonable incentives. The fact that this kind of case isn’t immediately dismissed is a strike against our legal system. It shouldn’t matter that google gives you a suggestion about how to walk via a computer rather than by voice a reasonable person would still be aware that directions can be imperfect so short of *TRUE* negligence, like frequent warnings that these directions were causing risk, they *shouldn’t* be liable.

    The problem is that if you even let cases like this reach the jury it’s SOOO easy for the jury to say, “Sure I guess they are 1% responsible” since 1% is low even if this means the company ends up paying huge bills (and other defendants declare bankruptcy). Tort law is complex and technical and when faced with that kind of technical law juries tend to be moved by their sympathies.

    I think that company to be found negligent the jury should have to find particular individuals at the company negligent and be fined (say a percent of damages the company pays up to $10,000 or something). Sure many companies might indemnify their employees but that doesn’t matter. The point is that in order for a jury to say that particular behavior was negligently harmful they should have to point their finger and say one of YOU seven people who approved the design and specified the ad language should have acted differently.

    I mean if everyone in the company behaved reasonably it shouldn’t be possible for the company to have been negligent. There is also a place for torts as a tool to encourage safety but those torts should be introduced by specific legislative action that say tells car makers they can be sued if their car is determined to handle unsafely.

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