GPS App Failed to Warn of Road Situation - Can I Sue for Damage to Vehicle?


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Every day millions of Americans rely on GPS apps to get them to where they need to go. Most often, drivers arrive at their destination unscathed. However, in some situations, drivers may listen to their GPS apps to their detriment, possibly getting in a crash when following directions literally or sustaining damage when the app fails to warn of low clearance.

GPS Technology and Concerns

GPS devices today contain sophisticated features. They update drivers on real-time issues, including changes in traffic and detours. They may also contain photo realistic displays that highlight highway interchanges and information about geographical features. Critics have blamed GPS devices for adding to distractions and deterring the attention of drivers from road signs that may alert them to dangers. Some models even display information on the windshield instead of on a mounted car device or phone app. When GPS devices get the driver to focus on only the directions, drivers may miss unexpected dangers.

In contrast, critics also criticize these devices for not being advanced enough. GPS devices may lag behind real-time changes, such as roads that are closed for construction, flooding conditions, roads that are restricted during certain hours, temporary detours and other conditions.

Terms of Conditions

The GPS app may include a long set of disclaimers under its terms of conditions. These conditions may state that the GPS app is not guaranteeing that all important information is revealed and stating that it is not responsible for accidents that result in relying on the app. The terms of conditions may also state that the apps may contain mistakes and that they may not be able to keep up with contemporaneous information such as construction areas. App users may agree to these terms of conditions when they download the app.

Negligence Principles

Some GPS device manufacturers have been sued in the past based on negligence principles. For example, one Boston case was filed against a large GPS manufacturer for failing to warn that the devices should not be used on commercial vehicles because they did not alert when these trucks would come in low clearance areas that may result in damage to the top of the vehicle.

Analogy to Maps

In some ways, GPS apps have replaced the role of maps. When maps were more common, some people would sue the map maker for errors. However, most courts did not hold these companies liable for errors. GPS apps may make similar mistakes.

Missing Signs

Another possible avenue for recovery is against the government entity or private entity responsible for maintaining the roads. This entity may be responsible for mounting signs to alert commercial truck drivers of height restrictions. It may also be responsible for replacing signs if they are missing or damaged.

Potential Legal Issues

Because GPS are relatively new, there is limited caselaw on the issue of GPS liability. One central concern involved in pursuing a claim of this nature is establishing the source of the problem. For example, there may be an issue involving the software itself. There may be a temporary glitch that results in missing information. A satellite defect may be to blame. In some of these issues, potential product liability claims may apply. However, if the app is considered a “service” rather than a product, these claims would not be available.

Potential Legal Theories

Due to the lack of cases involving GPS technology, individuals pursuing claims against these manufacturers may have to rely on similar legal theories. For example, they may use caselaw based on aeronautical charts that provide guidance to pilots. Some cases have held that the manufacturer was responsible when it provided misinformation about the extent of equipment in a particular airfield. The manufacturer was found to have produced a product in part because it provided charts to consumers that it sold and profited from. The courts have found that the manufacturer had a duty to consumers to not cause injury to consumers who used the charts.

Another possible legal theory that victims may assert in these types of cases is that of negligence. Negligent conduct is found when the defendant’s behavior is considered unreasonable.

Comparative Fault

Another legal principle that may apply in these types of cases is that of comparable fault, or the extent to which the driver shares responsibility in the accident. If the driver’s behavior was not considered reasonable, such as by ignoring signs indicating low clearance, the defendant may argue that the driver shares responsibility for the accident and his or her recovery may be reduced.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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