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Can GPS Apps Cause Car Accidents? Baxter Street Residents Say Yes

United States MUTCD regulatory road sign - Only left.

Car accident-prone Baxter Street in Los Angeles began life on an 1853 surveyor’s map, and entered its adolescence in 1872 when it was officially declared a street. Rumor has it Baxter was originally designated as a goat thoroughfare. Others claim it was supposed to be a pedestrian access path. But during the early 1900s, Baxter Street became a publicity stunt. Photographers snapped as early automobile manufacturers showed off how their products could climb this ridiculously steep monstrosity.

At a 32-percent grade, Baxter Street is easily steeper than some of San Francisco’s notorious roadways. It’s even on a list of the top 10 steepest roads in America. This dubious designation might be more exciting for Los Angeles residents if it weren’t for the frequent car accidents here, allegedly made worse by navigation apps like Waze.

Can you sue a navigation app because of a crash?

GPS apps are intended to make everyday life easier for users, in part by diverting drivers to alternate routes during rush hour. In LA, one of those alternate routes is Baxter St. The problem is that navigation apps like Waze do not mark Baxter Street as potentially hazardous. This applies to all vehicles, which means drivers of big trucks, limousines, school buses, or other lengthy vehicles have no prior warning that the hill they are ascending has a very small summit before beginning a steep decline. The Baxter Street summit is notorious for scraping the undercarriages of vehicles, and it’s been said that some vehicles have had to be airlifted off the hill.

The traffic congestion isn’t just problematic for passersby; it’s a nightmare for residents. “The car came through our garden, went through two fences and ended up backwards hanging over our driveway,” said Jason Luther, a Baxter Street resident, discussing an accident that occurred during a recent rainfall. Another resident, Robbie Adams, said, “We had our garden wall knocked down twice, and my wife’s car got hit in our own driveway. I’ve seen five or six cars smash into other cars, and it’s getting worse.”

Baxter Street residents have mobilized in an attempt to get Waze to take Baxter Street off its list of suggested alternative routes—or at least, to mark it as a hazard when it rains. A spokesperson for the app said that making such a change was impossible due to technical issues.

Residents and local officials are getting together to discuss possible solutions, but in the meantime, accidents are still happening, and this begs the question: Can a navigation app be sued for car accidents? This is a legal issue that’s still in its infancy, but the question has increasingly been popping up all over the U.S. and abroad.

Filing a lawsuit against Waze is not without precedent. A homeowners’ association in Tel Aviv, Israel has filed a lawsuit against Waze after drivers using the app turned a sleepy neighborhood street into a major thoroughfare, virtually overnight. And last year, two Israeli soldiers were directed by Waze to enter a refugee camp housing Palestinians. They had to be rescued by the Israeli Army. One person was killed, and 10 were wounded. Although these incidents happened in foreign jurisdictions, they do point to the possibility that a navigation app may be held liable, assuming that it can be proven the app was negligent in suggesting Baxter Street as a safe alternative route.

Legal remedies for car accident victims

Even if it’s a stretch to sue a navigation app, car accident victims do have well-established legal avenues available to them. A driver may be held liable if it’s determined that he or she struck another car due to unsafe actions behind the wheel. If a crash happens because brakes fail, and a design defect is to blame, then the manufacturer of the brakes might be held liable. Homeowners may secure an insurance settlement or legal award against a driver who crashes into their home or other property, particularly if that driver was going too fast given the conditions of the road.

Residents in Los Angeles and throughout southern California turn to Ellis Injury Law when they have complex legal problems. Our experienced team of investigators and car accident lawyers in Los Angeles provide personalized, compassionate assistance to victims and their families. Anyone affected by a Baxter Street car accident, or a crash elsewhere in California, is encouraged to request a free case review at our office. Call toll-free at 888-981-9214, any time of the day or night.

Additional resources on app-driven car accidents:

  1. Los Angeles Times, On one of L.A.’s steepest streets, an app-driven frenzy of spinouts, confusion and crashes, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-lopez-echo-park-traffic-20180404-story.html
  2. Forward, Israelis Sue Waze Navigation App for Creating Neighborhood Traffic Jam, https://forward.com/news/israel/356487/israelis-sue-waze-navigation-app-for-creating-neighborhood-traffic-jam/