Judge Dismisses Google-Walking-Directions Case

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As you may recall, Lauren Rosenberg sued Google last year, alleging that its dastardly Google Maps service had given her walking directions that caused her to walk across and then along a highway, where she was allegedly hit by a car that Google had not warned her was coming. On Point News reported recently that a judge in Salt Lake County has dismissed the case.

Google argued that courts have refused to impose liability in similar circumstances because of the chilling effect it would have on the flow of information. There are apparently a few cases where a maker of aeronautical charts was held liable for defects, but those involve very technical materials intended for a limited class of persons, not general walking directions.

In a good example of the irrelevant but highly interesting background fact, Google also noted in its brief that "[a]lthough the complaint does not state the purpose of [plaintiff's] journey, police reports indicate that it took place before dawn" and that the plaintiff conceded she had been drinking until about 5 a.m. Why didn't Google tell the bartender to cut her off? We may never know.

The judge sided with Google, finding that the plaintiff alleged no facts showing a special relationship between herself and Google of a kind that could create some special duty. And because Google qualified as a "publisher," free-speech considerations weighed against finding a duty under the standard analysis. Plaintiff argued that Google was not a "publisher" in this case because it was providing her with personal "one-on-one" directions, but the judge didn't buy that. Under the plaintiff's theory, the judge said, there would be basically no limits on the potential dangers Google would have to warn about – including "dangerous wildlife" – and so imposing this duty would effectively put an end to the useful mapping service. Since Google couldn't have breached a duty it didn't have, case dismissed.

Those of you who have been relying on Google Maps to report any cars, bears, aliens, or other such dangers along your intended route, please take notice.