Legally Speaking: Who Needs Common Sense When You've Got Technology?

John G. Browning Jun. 10, 2010, 3:46am

When you look up "personal responsibility" in the dictionary, you're not likely to find the name Lauren Rosenberg anywhere near it.

The Utah woman has gained notoriety in recent days for filing a lawsuit against Google. The lawsuit faults Google for directions Rosenberg obtained and followed, leading her onto a rural highway where she was hit by a car.

According to the lawsuit, on Jan. 19, Ms. Rosenberg wanted to get walking directions from 96 Daly St. in Park City, Utah, to 1710 Prospector Ave. in the same town. So she looked them up, using Google Maps on her Blackberry, and obtained a route that included a half-mile walk out onto Deer Valley Road, also known as State Route 224 – a rural highway that doesn't have sidewalks.

Rosenberg began walking, and was allegedly struck by a motor vehicle driven by Patrick Harwood (also of Park City); she claims to have suffered "severe permanent physical, emotional and mental injuries," incurring $100,000 in medical expenses.

Rosenberg claims that Google was negligent, careless and reckless in the "providing of unsafe directions" that led her onto "a dangerous highway" with "motor vehicles traveling at high speeds."

The plaintiff maintains that even though Google knew or should have known about the dangers of this highway, it "instructed her . . . to use that road for her pedestrian travel."

I know how my mother would react to such a lawsuit. She'd break out one of those time-honored "mom lines," like "If Google told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?"

The fact of the matter is, Google did provide a warning. If you look up the same walking directions on your computer, you'll get the following message: "Walking directions are in beta. Use caution – this route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths."

Unfortunately, Ms. Rosenberg looked up directions on her Blackberry – and the warning doesn't appear on cellphones and PDAs because of the small size of the screen (perhaps the next defendant Rosenberg will sue will be Research In Motion, makers of the Blackberry).

Perhaps if Ms. Rosenberg had an iPhone, she would have downloaded the special "common sense" application. You know, the one that tells you to look both ways, use caution and watch out for vehicles on a roadway where there's no sidewalk or pedestrian path.

Oh wait, there is no such app, maybe because we foolishly expect people to look out for themselves. Maybe the nice people at Google figured if you're smart enough to look up directions on a Blackberry, you're smart enough not to walk into the middle of traffic.

I once saw an episode of "The Office" where office manager Michael Scott tries to prove a point about the importance of maintaining the personal touch and the limits of impersonal technology versus human contact; he rigidly follows the directions from a car's talking GPS even when instructed to make a turn that winds up taking him straight into a pond.

I guess I just expect more out of real-life people than from sit-com characters.

Lauren Rosenberg just might have a cousin, or at least a kindred spirit, in Canada. In November 2007, Inga Richardson and her common law husband Joey Sanayhie were at a party, where Inga consumed a considerable amount of alcohol (Joey was the designated driver).

On the drive home, Inga became increasingly argumentative and agitated, threatening to jump out of the car. Perhaps not realizing what his drunken wife would do, Joey didn't slow down or stop the car.

Inga leaped out of the vehicle, sustaining serious injuries including brain damage. She subsequently filed a lawsuit against Joey, alleging that he should have taken steps to supervise her drinking and should have prevented her from jumping out of the moving vehicle.

Apparently, she believes that even it she won't look out for herself, someone else should.

Although a judge in Ontario threw out part of the case in May (saying a designated driver can't be held liable for how his passengers behave at a party before they get in his car), the remainder of the claims can still proceed to trial – including her claim that he should have kept her from jumping out of the car.

Ginger McGuire completes this trifecta of people lacking in personal responsibility. The woman recently made headlines by suing United Airlines for allegedly failing to wake her up after her flight landed in Philadelphia.

McGuire – either a really sound sleeper or just really, really tired – fell asleep during her flight and didn't awaken until four hours after the plane landed, when a cleaning crew discovered her still on the plane. She is suing United for negligence, emotional distress, and false imprisonment.

The last charge stems from the allegation that McGuire was questioned by police and not allowed to get off the plane right away; although, I can understand being suspicious about a lone passenger still on a plane at 4 a.m.

While I admit it's odd that the flight attendants and others apparently didn't notice Ms. McGuire during the de-boarding process, what are her damages? Being embarrassed at the fact that you're apparently the world's soundest sleeper?

C'mon – this doesn't belong in a courtroom. She overslept, for crying out loud.

Unless the flight attendant slips you roofies with your in-flight drink, I think sleeping through the landing is Ms. McGuire's fault.
Valorie Duran of Tampa, Fla., is also upset. She recently found out that her 16-year-old daughter had worked as a nude dancer at the Emperor's Gentleman's Club in Tampa.

So what would any responsible parent do? Some might get counseling for the daughter, who had run away from home. Some might do some soul-searching, wondering if problems at home led to the daughter's running away.

Ms. Duran, on the other hand, decided to sue the strip club for at least $150,000. Duran's attorney alleges that the teen provided club management with the driver's license of a 27-year-old woman as proof that she was over 18 and therefore legally eligible to work at the club, and the club's employment of her violates a Florida law against the sexual exploitation of children.

Here's a quick tip – regardless of the strip club's potential liability in this, Ms. Duran need to look in the mirror, and at her daughter, if she really wants to find out who shares in the responsibility for this sad chapter in their lives.

Finally, if your common sense and sense of common decency hasn't been sufficiently offended, try this example from Canada of adding insult to injury.

It was bad enough that Jake, the 12-year-old yellow Lab belonging to the Flemming family of Aurora, Ontario, was run over by a car and killed in March. But then the Flemmings received a legal demand from the motorist's insurance company, State Farm. The carrier was demanding that the family pay $1,648.95 for property damage to the driver's car.

State Farm had no comment, but daughter Katherine Flemming said, "We've lost a member of our family but we're supposed to pay for the damage to her bumper? That's just wrong."

It is just wrong, and like these other examples, it offends common sense.

But maybe there's someone else to blame.

Maybe the driver who hit Jake had gotten his directions from Google Maps.

John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons LLP. He may be contacted at:

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