Thursday, April 26, 2007

Liability for Spatial Data - Is There a Duty to Update?

A recent post on Brain Off ( describes how many of the major web-based map providers continue to show a major bridge in Mississippi despite the bridge having been destroyed during Hurricane Katrina over a year and a half ago.

Brain Off points out that this oversight is a combination of technological, structural and social issues. However, it is also a potential legal issue. Inaccuracies such as this can lead to someone getting injured and given the litigious nature of our society, lawsuits inevitably follow.

One possible defense to such lawsuits will be that the sites provide appropriate legal disclaimers and waivers of rights. However, these measures may not be sufficient. For example, such disclaimers and waivers are unlikely to apply to third parties (i.e. those not directly using the map) who are injured. For example, a passengers in a car. In addition, there is case law that suggests that certain maps my be considered products (not services) and therefore subject to product liability claims. In some jurisdictions, disclaimers and waivers would not be a defense against a product liability claim.

What steps can a spatial data company take?

There are a number of steps that a company can take to help address potential liability issues. These include:

  1. Clearly defining in contracts and licenses which party is responsible for maintaining the accuracy and timeliness of the data.
  2. Monitoring how data is being used and taking steps to ensure that customers are not using the data for purposes for which the data is not suited.
  3. Developing a policy for the reasonable update of data for its intended use(s) and then making sure the policy is followed.

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