Canada: Small-Town Garage Liable For Crash Involving Vehicle Stolen From Its Premises

Last Updated: November 22 2016
Article by James D. Bromiley

The Village of Paisley, population 1,100, is situated in the heart of Bruce County. Until recently, its claim to fame was its annual Beef Fest held every August. Recently, the Ontario Court of Appeal cast a spotlight on this quiet village in a decision involving one of its local garages.

On October 3, 2016 the Court of Appeal released its decision in the case of J. J. v. C.C. One of the Defendants in that case was Rankin's Garage and Sales, known by the locals as "Rankin's Garage". The Court found Rankin's Garage partially responsible for serious injuries suffered by a teen who helped steal a vehicle from its lot before it crashed.

Background

On July 8, 2006 J.J., then 15 years of age, met up with his friends, C.C. (age 16) and T.T. (age 16) at the dam in Paisley, Ontario. C.C. and T.T. shared eight beers T.T. had brought with him. C.C. testified that J.J. did not have any of the beer. The three boys walked to C.C.'s house around 8:30 p.m. where C.C. and T.T. continued to drink beer. C.C.'s mother had purchased a case of beer (24) for the boys to drink.

C.C.'s mother went to bed prior to 11:00 p.m., leaving the boys unsupervised. C.C. found a bottle of vodka later that evening and the boys drank vodka mixed with orange juice. They also shared a single marijuana cigarette. T.T. went home later that evening. C.C. and J.J. left the house around the same time, setting in motion a series of events that ended with a crash and serious injuries to J.J.

According to C.C., the two boys walked around Paisley with the intent of stealing things from unlocked cars. They ended up at Rankin's Garage, which services and sells used cars and trucks. The garage property was not secured. C.C. testified that he checked two cars on the lot. He found an unlocked Toyota Camry parked behind the garage. The keys to the Camry were in the ashtray. C.C. decided to steal the car even though he did not have a driver's licence and had never driven a car before. J.J. got into the car as a passenger. The plan was to drive to the nearby town of Walkerton to pick up a friend. The car crashed on the way there. J.J. suffered a catastrophic brain injury.

C.C. pleaded guilty to theft under $5,000, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm and possession of stolen property obtained by theft. A charge of driving with over 80 milligrams of alcohol in his blood was dropped. C.C.'s mother pled guilty to a charge of supplying alcohol to minors. J.J. was not charged with any criminal offences.

The Trial

J.J. sued C.C., Rankin's Garage and C.C.'s mother for negligence. The trial judge instructed the jury that Rankin's Garage owed J.J. a duty of care "because people who [are] entrusted with the possession of motor vehicles must assure themselves that the youth in their community are not able to take possession of such dangerous objects."

The jury found C.C., C.C.'s mother and Rankin's Garage negligent. J.J. was found contributorily negligent. The jury offered the following comments:

  • Rankin's Garage's negligence arose out of leaving the car unlocked; leaving the key in the car; knowing (or ought to have known) of the potential risk of theft; having very little security; and testimony inconsistencies.
  • C.C.'s mother's negligence arose out of providing alcohol to minors; failing to supervise minors; and failing to keep her own alcohol secure.
  • C.C.'s negligence arose out of drinking underage; not having a driver's licence; stealing a car; impaired operation of a car; and trespassing.
  • J.J.'s contributory negligence arose out of willingly getting into a stolen car; knowing C.C. did not have a driver's licence; knowing that C.C. was impaired; knowing that C.C. was an inexperienced driver; and participating in stealing a car.

The jury apportioned liability as follows:

Rankin's Garage:
C.C.'s mother:
C.C.:
J.J.:
37%
30%
23%
10%

The Appeal

The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the trial decision.

Justice Grant Huscroft, speaking for the three-judge panel, correctly identified the central issue as "whether [Rankin's Garage] owed a duty of care to a minor involved in stealing a car from [a] garage and car dealership". He further commented "On the face of things, the notion that an innocent party could owe a duty of care to someone who steals from [it] seems extravagant ... but matters are not so simple". He noted that "the finding that a duty of care is owed to a third party is relatively rare in cases arising out of the theft of a vehicle." He added that in most cases, a duty of care to a third party is not usually found because injury to the third party is not reasonably foreseeable.

In addressing the negligence of Rankin's Garage, the court noted that the stolen car was left unlocked with the keys in it; the car was known to be operational; it was stolen from a business rather than a private owner; and it was stolen by minors in the context of knowledge that unsecured vehicles were at risk of theft.

The Court echoed many of the comments of the trial judge; an unlocked car with keys left in it is an inviting target to an impaired person looking for transportation; it was foreseeable that injury could occur if a vehicle was used by inebriated teenagers; and there were no policy reasons to negate or limit the duty of care owed by Rankin's Garage.

The Court's decision to uphold the trial verdict weighed heavily on the "practices" of the garage. Several witnesses testified that Rankin's Garage had a practice of leaving cars unlocked with keys in them. Customers dropping off cars were sometimes instructed by Rankin's Garage to leave car keys under floor mats, in the ashtray, or over the visor. Evidence at trial confirmed that other garages in the area had drop boxes or locked boxes for their customers' keys. The owner of the vehicle which was stolen testified that his vehicles were regularly serviced by Rankin's Garage. He would always leave the keys in them when he dropped them off in front of the garage. He did not think that his cars were always locked when he returned to pick them up.

The Court also considered evidence that vehicle thefts in the area were a known historical problem. Officer Pittman gave evidence that vehicle theft and mischief – rummaging through vehicles – was a common occurrence within the detachment area. The OPP encouraged residents to lock their vehicles. Newspaper and radio messages had been used, along with a project involving auxiliary police checking vehicles and notifying owners if they were found unlocked.

In commenting on the issue of foreseeability, the Court found that Rankin's Garage was easily accessible by anyone. There was no evidence of any security measures designed to keep people off the property when the business was not open. Cars were left unlocked with the keys in them. The risk of theft was clear. In these circumstances, the Court reasoned that it was foreseeable that minors might take a car from Rankin's Garage that was made easily available to them. Evidence that a vehicle had been stolen from Rankin's Garage years earlier for joyriding, and that vehicle theft and mischief were common occurrences in the area, reinforced this conclusion. The Court noted "It is a matter of common sense that minors might harm themselves in joyriding, especially if they are impaired by alcohol or drugs". The Court further noted that Rankin's Garage should have had minors like J.J. in mind when considering security measures, adding that Rankin's Garage had care and control of many vehicles for commercial purposes; with that comes the responsibility of securing them against minors, in whose hands they are potentially dangerous. The Court found that securing these vehicles was not an "onerous obligation". Rather, it was a simple matter of locking the vehicles and storing the keys.

The Court next considered the notion that "establishing liability for the injuries of someone who participates in a theft is offensive to society standards". Underlying this sentiment was the notion that wrongdoers should be responsible for the damage they cause to themselves by their own wrongdoing. In addressing this issue, the Court commented that "sentiment is not principle ... it is well established that the duty of care operates independently of the illegal or immoral conduct of an injured party".

The Court concluded that Rankin's Garage had not only an interest in securing the vehicles on its property, both as owner of some vehicles and as bailee of others, but also a responsibility. Rankin's Garage could easily have met the standard of care by ensuring that all vehicles were locked and keys protected – precautions regularly taken in the industry.

In addressing the jury's apportionment of liability, the Court noted that there was "room for reasonable disagreement" adding that "another jury might well have apportioned liability differently". The Court chose not to interfere with the jury's decision on the apportionment of liability, commenting that "It cannot be said that the jury's decision is so plainly unreasonable and unjust as to satisfy the Court that no jury reviewing the evidence as a whole and acting judicially could have reached it".

This decision has garnered mainstream media attention. Publications, including the KW Record, Toronto Sun and the local Paisley newspaper, have all written about this decision, with some unfavourable commentary. Much of it focusses on the principle that wrongdoers should be responsible for the damage they cause to themselves by their wrongdoing. Some suggest that the party being robbed should not have been found more responsible than the teenagers who robbed it.

Rankin's Garage's lawyer indicated that he expects his client will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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 Mondaq.com.

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

Authors
James D. Bromiley
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). 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 & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd 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 or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.