“Google Tried to Kill Me!”

Personal injury lawyers, along with their close trial lawyer cousins, the medical malpractice and product liability lawyers, have an unjust reputation. The American tort system is the fairest in the world, and the work of trial lawyers saves lives while it is getting compensation and damages for people who have been injured by the careless, negligent, reckless or malicious acts of others.

Unfortunately, rare cases like that of Lauren Rosenberg overshadow all of this, which is just one of the reasons her lawsuit against Google is objectionable. When you walk down the middle of a highway and get hit by a car, you may have some justification for suing the driver of the car. But suing the website that suggested that you walk on the road? That’s the theory of Laura and her lawyer. According to PC World, Rosenberg was trying to get from 96 Daly Street, Park City, Utah, to 1710 Prospector Avenue, Park City, Utah, and looked up the walking directions on her Blackberry using Google Maps . Google suggested a half-mile walk down “Deer Valley Drive,”  also known as “Utah State Route 224,” which should have been a clue. But Google-trusting Laura started walking down the middle of the highway, and sure enough,  a car hit her.  Her complaint says:

“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, causing her to suffer sever permanent physical, emotional, and mental injuries, including pain and suffering.”

It seems that Google’s warning about its walking directions on Google Maps—“Use caution–This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths”—doesn’t appear on Blackberries, which will probably be a large part of Laura’s argument if the case gets to trial. Don’t bet against her winning. An even more likely result is that Google will decide to settle out of court, just to avoid the risk that a jury will choose to take money from a corporate giant and give it to a pathetic plaintiff, even a spectacularly undeserving one. This means that as stupid and unfair as Rosenberg’s lawsuit may be, it isn’t unethical for a lawyer to argue it. The lawsuit has some chance of succeeding under current laws, which means, by definition, that it isn’t frivolous. Whether to bring the lawsuit against Google or not is the sole decision of Lauren Rosenberg, who has a right to have lawyer assist her in using the legal system, however irresponsibly.

She’s wrong to bring the suit against Google, however. She has eyes and, in theory, common sense, and the website doesn’t. If Google Maps told her the best way to get to Detroit was to swim across Lake Michigan, would she do it? If it told her the best way to get 1710 Prospector Avenue was to go to the highest building in Park City, Utah, jump off the top and glide, would she try that too? There is a baseline level of personal accountability one must accept for the consequences of one’s own foolishness, and Laura is trying to duck it.

We live in a technological age, and adults should be expected to comprehend that computers aren’t infallible, all-knowing or magic. If a program spits out directions any sane person would recognize as nonsense, there should be limited sympathy for those who come to grief by following them blindly. The ethical response would be for Laura to accept responsibility for making a bone-headed decision, even if there is some chance that her unfair lawsuit against Google may net some undeserved cash.

What is probably going to happen, however, is that Laura Rosenberg’s dumb lawsuit will soon be Exhibit A in continuing efforts by corporate American to limit damages and lawsuits. We have a good tort system, but the Laura Rosenbergs among as manage to make it look bad by using it to make others pay for their own mistakes.

3 thoughts on ““Google Tried to Kill Me!”

  1. Dear Jack: While I can’t agree with you on the general state of the American tort system, this episode is so far out of the park that O.J.’s lawyers would have done a double-take. When it comes to this sort of thing, I tend to be something of a Darwinist. If anyone is THAT stupid, it’s probably best that they’re removed from the gene pool- permanently. BTW: Check out my latest Facebook link from Rotten Tomatoes. You’ll find an old friend featured there. Ciao.

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