Lawsuit: Google Maps sent couple into robbery hotspot in South Africa

The Zoladzes, from Los Angeles, claim in their lawsuit that the Nyanga neighbourhood that Google Maps directed them into was known locally for years as the site of ‘numerous’ violent attacks on tourists by armed criminals. — AP

SAN FRANCISCO: Despite warnings to Google from US and South African officials that Google Maps was regularly sending tourists on a route where violent thieves lay in wait to ambush them, the tech giant failed to take action, and a California couple were brutally attacked, a new lawsuit against the Mountain View company claims.

On an October morning last year, Jason and Katharine Zoladz were using Google Maps to navigate from their Airbnb in a coastal Cape Town suburb to Cape Town International Airport, where they were to swap their rented car for an SUV for a trip to a Kalahari Desert wildlife preserve, according to their lawsuit filed Tuesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

Instead of the Kalahari, Jason ended up in the hospital for a three-hour surgery and Katharine was left with lasting emotional damage after a bloody attack by thieves, according to the lawsuit.

Google spokesman José Castañeda said in a statement Wednesday evening that the company was reviewing the lawsuit.

“We take driver safety very seriously,” Castañeda said. “We consider a wide range of factors to deliver routes – like road size, directness and estimated travel time – and continually work to improve our routing.”

The Zoladzes, from Los Angeles, claim in their lawsuit that the Nyanga neighbourhood that Google Maps directed them into was known locally for years as the site of “numerous” violent attacks on tourists by armed criminals.

“Gangs of robbers would lie in wait for tourists traveling in rental cars” and would “assault the cars by throwing bricks or large stones through the car windows, violently assaulting the occupants, and stealing valuables”, the lawsuit said. Victims, according to the lawsuit, were left “injured, maimed, or dead”.

Google Maps told the Zoladzes to turn left on New Eisleben Road, which intersected with a stretch of highway in the area dubbed the “Hell Run” because of violent attacks on tourists in rental cars, the lawsuit claimed.

New Eisleben itself was known as a “prime site” for the assaults because its congestion made it hard for victims to escape, and “the gangs knew that Google Maps sent unsuspecting tourists driving rental cars” along it, the lawsuit alleged.

Just before 9am, the couple stopped at a red light, and men with guns surrounded the car, the lawsuit said.

“One of them threw a paving brick through the driver’s side window, breaking Jason Zoladz’s lower jaw bone into several pieces, cutting through his skin and muscle to bone, and rendering him unconscious,” according to the lawsuit.

The assailants pulled the couple from the car, and fired several gunshots, the lawsuit said. After stealing the Zoladzes’ cash, credit cards and cellphones, the men fled, “leaving Jason bleeding and disoriented as he and Katharine attempted to navigate to a hospital or to a police station”, the lawsuit said.

A police officer escorted the couple to a hospital, where Jason underwent three hours of reconstructive surgery by two different surgeons, according to the lawsuit.

“Jason now lives with four metal plates in his jaw, continued pain and numbness, and faces the likelihood of future surgeries,” the lawsuit said.

Katharine, at the hospital, spoke to a US consular official who did not have to be told where the attack occurred, according to the lawsuit.

“The Consular official said that other Americans had been attacked along the same route and that United States and South African officials had been in discussions with Google Maps for a while, trying to get Google Maps to stop sending people along that route to Cape Town International Airport,” the lawsuit claimed.

Cape Town officials later told the couple that they, too, had been trying to meet with Google Maps representatives to address the issue, the lawsuit alleged.

Three weeks after the Zoladzes were attacked, Google agreed to stop Google Maps from directing users through the area the lawsuit claimed, but, “That was too late for the Zoladzes.”

The couple are seeking unspecified damages. – tca/dpa

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