Canada: Theft Of An Unlocked Car Is Foreseeable; Dangerous Driving By A Teenage Car Thief Is (Probably) Not

In Rankin (Rankin's Garage & Sales) v. J.J., 2018 SCC 19, the Supreme Court of Canada held that "[a] business will only owe a duty to someone who is injured following the theft of a vehicle [from its premises] when, in addition to theft, unsafe operation of the stolen vehicle was reasonably foreseeable".

Late one night, after consuming alcohol and marijuana, two teens walked around Paisley, Ontario looking for opportunities to steal valuables from unlocked cars.  They ended up at Rankin's Garage & Sales (Rankin's) and found the lot unsecured. On the lot, they found an unlocked car with its keys in the ashtray. C., who was 16 and did not have a driver's license, decided to steal the car and told his friend J. to get in. C. crashed the car on the highway and J. suffered a catastrophic brain injury. J. sued C., C.'s mother, who had provided the teens with some of the alcohol they drank that night, and Rankin's.

At trial, the judge held that Rankin's owed J. a duty of care on the basis that previous cases had already established this duty exists. The trial judge went on to find that it "ought to be foreseeable" that injury could occur if the vehicle were used by inebriated teenagers. The jury found all parties, including the plaintiff, shared liability.

The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the trial decision, however, it did not accept that the duty fell into a recognized category and undertook a full analysis. Ultimately it concluded that the risk of theft encompasses a risk of theft by minors in whose hands vehicles are potentially dangerous, and therefore that it was reasonably foreseeable that injury would result if a car was stolen from Rankin's lot.

The Supreme Court of Canada overturned the decision of the lower courts and dismissed the claim against Rankin's. In doing so, Karakatsanis J., writing for the majority, held that to establish a duty of care in novel circumstances, a plaintiff must provide sufficient factual basis to establish that the type of harm suffered by the plaintiff, in this case personal injury, was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the Defendant's breach of the standard, in this case, failing to secure vehicles to prevent theft.

The Court distinguished the risk of theft from the risk of theft by minors. It was reasonably foreseeable to Rankin's, or a commercial garage in Rankin's position, that an unlocked car could be stolen. In fact, Rankin's' evidence was that it took precautions to secure vehicles to prevent theft. However, it was not theft of the vehicle which caused J.'s personal injury, it was the dangerous manner in which C. drove the stolen vehicle.

The decision rests on the fact there was no evidentiary basis to connect the risk of theft and the risk of dangerous operation of a stolen vehicle.  The Court was not persuaded on the evidentiary record that physical harm was an expected consequence of theft.  The Court therefore held that it was not reasonably foreseeable to Rankin's that its failure to secure the vehicle, which C. eventually stole, could lead to physical harm. There was no evidence the garage intended to attract minors or that it knew it attracted minors and no evidence that minors were targeting the garage in particular.

Gascon J. and Brown J. dissented on two grounds. They would have found that physical injury to J. was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of Rankin's negligence based on Rankin's evidence that it knew it had an obligation to properly lock, secure and store its customers' vehicles, inferring that the precautions taken to store the vehicles was "ample support for the conclusion that a reasonable person in Rankin's circumstances would have foreseen the risk of injury from the negligent storage of vehicles." It is interesting that the dissent would have required evidence that the acknowledged risk of theft does not automatically include a risk of theft by minors, whereas the majority reached its decision because of the absence of evidence that the risk of theft does include a risk of theft by minors.

This case highlights the need for a plaintiff to adduce evidence which establishes a link between the breach of standard and the harm suffered when arguing a duty of care should be recognized in new circumstances. However, there is a risk that the unique facts of this case have led the Court to insert instability into the reasonable foreseeable analysis. In this case, the majority concluded that personal injury was caused by a teen's dangerous driving, and not by the theft of the vehicle. Although not discussed in detail, the majority's underlying assumption is that C. crashed the stolen vehicle because he was a minor, with some mention of his being an inexperienced driver. There is very little discussion by the Supreme Court of Canada about the evidence that C. was drunk and high or how that affected its analysis.

What if an adult, who had never driven before, stole a car from Rankin's and crashed it, causing injury? Was it reasonably foreseeable that an inexperienced driver, who happened to be 30, instead of 16, would steal an unsecured car? What if, instead, the thief was a teen who had significant driving experience, but nevertheless crashed the car, causing injury? Does his age still affect the analysis? What about an adult thief who was drunk and high, and who caused a crash because he was under the influence? What if the car was stolen from a house's driveway and not a commercial garage? In those cases, would it be sufficient to adduce evidence that the risk of theft is foreseeable, or would the Plaintiff require evidence that there was a specific risk of theft from homes or by inexperienced adult drivers, experienced youth drivers, and intoxicated adult thieves to establish a duty to the injured party?

It remains to be seen how often this decision will be interpreted to require evidence of both the foreseeability of the act (here, theft) and of the actor's specific characteristics (here, age and inexperience) and whether as a result, new categories of duty to prevent harm will be exceptionally narrow.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions