The Case of the Google Street View Car Crash

Video of a Google Street View Green Vehicle

Google Street View of Crashed Car

By accident attorney Michael Ehline – How much do you want to get that Google can be sued under a theory of respondeat superior. Last Thursday, one of Google Map’s Street View vehicles was involved in three separate crashes while traveling on the streets of Bogor, Indonesia outside of Jakarta. And we all thought that car accidents in Los Angeles like these mentioned here were crazy right. There is more to this traffic collision than your first impression may seem.

According to the police report the vehicle was identified as a small Subaru hatchback that was involved in traffic incidents near the nation’s capital. Police officers declined to release the name of the driver of the Google vehicle. The AFP news agency reported the first accident the Subaru was involved in, occurred when it struck a minivan. In this report according to Jakar police operations chief Hendra Gunawan said the Subaru driver accompanied the minivan driver to the garage, instead of only trading information with the driver.

Google Maps Street View Driver Flees

Police said upon hearing the repair costs, the Google vehicle driver drove away from the garage, in the damaged Subaru. A short time later the Google car driver then struck a second minivan and a parked truck. Police then detained the driver for questioning. Google spokesperson said that safety of Street Views cars and other motorist’s safety is of great importance to the company and they are relieved that there were no serious injuries in the incidents. The spokesperson said that the company is sorry that damages were caused and they are working with local authorities in the accidents.

According to police the costs for repairs in the first accident amounted to approximately 200,000 rupiah or about $17.60 USD.  The car crashes occurred at a time when the Search Engine company is under fire by privacy advocates for Google Map Views and their Gmail service. This case raises some interesting issues, especially if it had taken place in California.  For example, these are street map viewing cars.  How distracted are these drivers? What are they being paid to do?

If Google purposefully pays people to do a job while driving a car that causes the vehicle operator to be distracted, it is clear there could be a wreck.  That would be an actionable tort against Google under the theory of respondeat superior.

Respondeat Superior
[Latin, Let the master answer.] A common-law doctrine that makes an employer liable for the actions of an employee when the actions take place within the scope of employment.
The common-law doctrine of respondeat superior was established in seventeenth-century England to define the legal liability of an employer for the actions of an employee. The doctrine was adopted in the United States and has been a fixture of agency law. It provides a better chance for an injured party to actually recover damages, because under respondeat superior the employer is liable for the injuries caused by an employee who is working within the scope of his employment relationship.The legal relationship between an employer and an employee is called agency. The employer is called the principal when engaging someone to act for him. The person who does the work for the employer is called the agent. The theory behind respondeat superior is that the principal controls the agent’s behavior and must then assume some responsibility for the agent’s actions. (Source)

Here, assuming arguendo that the driver was distracted as part of his official street mapping duties, the driver employee would be presumed to be Google for purposes of economic recovery for the vehicle damage and any injuries. Here, it appears there was a few dollars worth of damages, and no bodily injuries reported.  But if this had happened in LA, you better bet after three wrecks, someone would be on the way to the hospital.

The fact the driver fled the scene may be evidence he was perhaps drunk, or on drugs, and had a guilty mind, and was perhaps engaged in frolic and detour, in which case, the driver and not Google would be held responsible.  The facts are not clear enough to form an opinion on the law of this foreign country, but if this had taken place in a California city, this would be the case.


ABC News – “Google Street View Car Smashes Into Three Different Vehicles in One Day”

A Google Street View car used for creating Google Maps data is responsible for causing three separate traffic accidents in Indonesia on the same day.
A Google Street View car used for creating Google Maps data is responsible for causing three separate traffic accidents in Indonesia on the same day.

About Author


Ehline Michael
Michael Ehline is a prolific blogger on California and international tort law. He has been a guest on CNN, discussed in major news publications like Forbes, Circle of Legal Trust, Personal Injury Warriors, and International Cruise Victims. He has lobbied congress on behalf of injured consumers, served as a United States Marine, and won millions of dollars for his clients. This blog discusses Ehline's insights and musings on all aspects of negligence law as it relates to all things "accidents." Ehline can be reached at (213) 596-9642.