Woman Follows Google Maps “Walking” Directions, Gets Hit, Sues

Is Google responsible for giving out bad directions through its Google Maps service? We’re about to find out. After Googling walking directions for a trip in Park City, Utah, Lauren Rosenberg claims she was led onto a busy highway, where she was struck by a vehicle. She’s now suing Google for damages.

The case, Rosenberg v. Harwood, was filed in Utah, in the US District Court’s Central Division (Gary Price of ResourceShelf tipped us to it today). Harwood is Patrick Harwood, the person who actually hit Rosenberg, according to the suit. Both Harwood and Google are being sued in the same case, for damages “in excess of $100,000.”

Rosenberg used Google Maps on January 19, 2009, via her Blackberry, to get directions between 96 Daly Street, Park City, Utah and 1710 Prospector Avenue, Park City, Utah. Google provided these, telling her as part of the route to walk for about 1/2 mile along the calm-sounding “Deer Valley Drive.”

That’s an alternative name for that section of Utah State Route 224, a highway that lacks sidewalks, the case says. Rosenberg wasn’t warned about this, putting Google directly at fault in the accident, the case claims:

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 wit no sidewalks, and a roadway that exhibits motor vehicles traveling at high speeds, that is not reasonably safe for pedestrians.

The Defendant Google expects uses of the walking map site to rely on the accuracy of the walking directions given….

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

Here’s the route:

In the screenshot above, you can see that Google quite clearly warns:

Walking directions are in beta. Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.

That would seem to negate part of the suit’s claim — except that Rosenberg used a Blackberry. The Blackberry version of Google Maps might not have carried this warning. I don’t have a Blackberry so can’t see myself, but I’m checking on this. I know that on the iPhone version, there is no warning.

Certainly it seems embarrassing for Google to be routing people onto busy highways when they explicitly use the “walking” directions option. But then again, Google’s not alone. Bing does the same thing in its directions, which also contain a warning (at least in the web version):

Part of the issue seems to be that there’s no easy-to-find pedestrian path between these two points in Park City. Looking at the satellite view on Google Maps, there appears to be an alternative dirt path that runs roughly along the same direction. But I can’t tell if this was open to public use or not. Since it’s not along a major road, it’s something that Google Maps probably didn’t pick up.

Instead, Google’s making its best guess. That can be laughable to annoying, when it gets things wrong. Some examples:

But are Google’s bad guesses also dangerous? I suspect a court is going to find that despite getting bad directions from Google (or a gas station attendant, a local person or any source), people are also expected to use common sense. So when you come to an intersection like this, as Rosenberg would have come to before crossing onto the highway:

You might be expected to consider for yourself whether it is safe to continue. Or when you’re walking down the road itself, and it looks like this:

It becomes self-evident there’s no sidewalk and probably not a good place for pedestrians to walk, regardless of whether you got a warning from Google or not.

Here’s to Google improving its directions and perhaps using more common sense of its own, understanding whether a street is a busy highway and maybe simply not offering routes when it doubt, rather than guessing.

And here’s also to common sense about anyone following any directions they’re given.

Here’s a copy of the filing, which we’ve uploaded to Scribd:

Rosenberg v. Harwood (& Google)

I’ve also asked Google and the law firm for comment. The lead lawyer on the case is out until Tuesday, I was told when I call, so I’ll post any information I get from them from that day onward.

Postscript (June 1, 2:45PM PT): Lauren Rosenberg of Santa Monica dropped me an email begging to get the word out that she’s NOT the Lauren Rosenberg involved in this suit. Lauren of Santa Monica is getting flooded with press calls, she told me.

Postscript (June 1, 4:40PM PT): See our update, Attorney In Google Maps Lawsuit: It Was Dark; She Thought Google Was Leading Her To Sidewalk.


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://www.uggsaussie.biz ultiad

    funny story. trust your sense more than tech, google.

  • http://www.bidorbuy.co.za MagicDude4Eva

    sorry to say this, but a GPS/map-tool assists one with directions. If common sense is completely missing and people run into cars or drive off bridges and then sue the manufacturer, I truly feel sorry for those people.

    In my mind pure financial exploitation. a reasonable person would not walk onto a high-way our at least be cautious crossing.

    Same principal applies for traffic-lights – do you just blindly drive through or do you actually ensure that entering an intersection is safe.

  • http://www.ericinparkcity.com erichoffman

    Danny,

    So odd seeing you story about an incident here in my hometown of Park City, that I had no idea about!

    You are completely correct in that there is a pedestrian/bike path that basically parallels Deer Valley Dr (224) and is a completely traffic free route basically all the way to this person’s intended destination. That said, for whatever reason, I have seen any number of people walking along Deer Valley Dr over the year and have always wondered why they wouldn’t take the much safer and pleasant path just a few yards away, now I know…it’s because of Google Maps! ;)

    Park City does have a very good network of walking paths and roads with marked shoulders, a map is available at http://www.parkcity.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=658

  • http://joblr.net Mikkel deMib Svendsen

    This is one of those cases that always makes people outisde the US laugh at this part of your legal system. Honestly, its ridiculous! And I actually think most Americans would agree with me in this case too.

    No doubt Googles advice in this case was bad. But whats the news? Google ofte give bad advices. They are not perfect and I don’t think they ever claimed to be. Should only perfection be allowed? In that case I think many of us needs to close down all we do :)

  • http://www.greggoodson.com GregGoodson

    I’ve run down this road a few times when I lived in Park City… probably not the most pedestrian friendly road, but I probably wouldn’t go down this road walking from A to B in her case because a) there is free public transportation in Park City and b) while those pictures posted above are nice, there are massive snowbanks on the side of the road in January in Park City… you can bet that dirt path wasn’t there when she got struck.

    If she was from Park City, she should have known better (I’ve read other news reports that she is a resident there).

    This reminds me of The Office episode where Michael drives his rental car into the lake because the GPS said for him to turn right (also the episode where the employees receive blackberries).

    Awesome.

  • johngriffiths7

    This sounds like one of those What happens when Americans get out of their cars story. which is why we Brits have the perception that Americans rarely get out of them. Why is it Google’s fault? What about the idiot who drove into her? What about the makers of the handset that carried the information from Google? What about taking some responsibility for your own life?

  • http://Arkady Arkady

    Google Maps for Blackberry also carries the Beta caution warning, so claiming she used the Blackberry edition won’t help her any.

  • cas@wws

    Wow … like Ron White says “There’s no cure for stupid” but fear not, this is America – where we are not responsible or accountable for our own actions nor are we allowed much credit for using our brains. This is the land of sue for your own idiocy and win the lottery!!

    The Jury will award her millions!!! Google will be forced to make a gazillion changes to their Maps program as will every other mapping ap. If you don’t believe me see “Woman spills hot coffee on her lap, sues McDonalds”….

  • presleye69

    $100,000, Footy Pajamas and a bib

    She should be awarded the $100,000 and then declared mentally incompetant and not responsible for her actions. She should be fitted with footy pajamas and a bib, all meals to be pureed and she should not be left unattended. She should become a ward of the state unless there is family willing to assume responsibility for her well being. She should be institutionalized for a period of not less than 2 years for observation and treatment with the aim of returning her to a fully functional state.

    This is the only way to ‘entice’ adults to take responsibility for their own actions and to not file these kinds of frivolous lawsuits. This is really embarrasing for the plaintiff, for the court system and for the country as a whole.

    Bottom Line: If this woman asserts that she cannot be held responsible for her actions, then remove her from responsibility for ANY of her actions. And in so doing, you MUST remove her authority/ability to make and decisions that could further injure her. This would be a kind and just resolution in this case, whether she is actually incompetant or simply greedy and irresponsible. This verdict would work in either situation.

  • kaywCT

    ….and I wonder if she was walking facing traffic as she should, or with traffic where she would not be able to see the cars coming at her…In Connecticut a person will sometimes be charged for misuse of roads (or something like that)…

  • Biker-74

    I don’t think this is a case of either moral, responsibility, sanity or something like it.

    I think it’s about Money. Pure Money.

    From what I understand, the American legal system doesn’t actively encourage you to sue everyone from your mother, over the US President, all the way up till God for being responsible for whatever happens to you. But then again, it doesn’t disallow for it or actively discourage it either.

    So whatever bad happens to you, you could always try. It *could* be your winning lottery ticket. (Remember? Money!)

    Personally, I doubt that even the victim actually considers Google being *responsible*. She’s most likely just exploring a legal possibility to (over-)compensate for her own accident.

    Money makes the world going round, the world going round…

    My impression concerning some moral differences between the US and Europe is that, to my understanding, in the US, the law is a lot more interpreted to the letter than in Europe and that in Europe, the law is more interpreted taking it’s spirit and intention in account.

    Biker-74

  • keywestbrian

    It was only a matter of time that some idiot would do this. It follows the woman sueing McDonadls for selling her a ‘hot’ cup of coffee. No longer are individuals responsible for using any ‘reason’ or sense.

  • DKinPC

    When I first saw this story reflected in the Salt Lake Tribune, I, of course, thought: “Silly, litigious blackberry user…” But soon enough I realized that the event had occurred in my home town. The article is quite correct that Deer Valley drive is no place to be walking due to the high speed traffic, limited sight lines, and no pedestrian lane/sidewalk. It’s not particularly enjoyable on a fast bicycle – which points up a piece missing from the story…. If one uses the BICYCLE directions rather than the FOOT directions they are routed via much calmer streets which even have sidewalks! So, though I think everyone must take responsibility for their own safety, it appears that Google could easily have provided more suitable directions for the journey. Hopefully their engineers will find a way to modify the current algorithms.

  • KJ

    I’m always amused and shocked by stories like this. Why do people who never use maps implicitly trust sat-nav and not their own judgement. Living in the UK we wouldn’t sue, we’d be too embarrassed.

  • v1v3k

    I have to drive around the country many times in my profession. I do not have or use a sat nav. I always use google maps, earth and street view to help me find locations i need to drive to and it hasn’t failed me yet. I did get it wrong once but that was down to a roadside sign and the nature of the place I was visiting, a temporary worksite. Fortuately there were people who knew where I was going

  • jeffturner85

    Ha ha ha, now thats the funny thing. Am wondering how dumb that woman would be. I am sure her IQ is less than 10.Well i wish she was standing on the top of the building and than she used the application and in that case am pretty sure she could jumped off the roof and then will sue google for not telling her to use lifts. DUMB.. Idiot people

  • joehuy

    presleye69: thank you so much for being so wise – and funny. this is EXACTLY what we should do with these people. oh, i’d like to be there that first day when she’s given her jammys. you are sooo funny. thanks for saying it like it is.

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