Supreme Court Rules There is No Duty of Care Owed to Thieves and Trespasssers to Inhibit Theft
Is garage liable for a car thief’s injuries?
Supreme Court still mulling an appeal of a ruling that found a parking garage partially liable for teen’s injuries
NEWS Apr 12, 2018 by Gordon Paul Waterloo Region Record
KITCHENER — Six months have passed since the Supreme Court of Canada heard an appeal of a landmark ruling that found a Bruce County garage partly liable for injuries suffered by a teen who stole a car from the business.
The court on average takes less than five months to release a ruling, but no date has been set for this decision — a decision that could reverberate across the country.
"This case asks this honourable court to answer one deceptively simple question: what is our legal responsibility to those who injure themselves while stealing from our property?" lawyers for the garage wrote in a submission to the Supreme Court.
"There is not presently a duty of care owed to trespassers and thieves to inhibit their efforts to steal vehicles, nor should there be. Not in this case, and not in future cases."
On July 8, 2006, two boys — one 16, the other 15 — went out to try to steal from unlocked cars in the village of Paisley. At Rankin's Garage, they found an unlocked Toyota Camry with the keys in the ashtray.
The older teen got behind the wheel, even though he had never driven before and earlier drank beer (supplied by his mother) and vodka, and smoked marijuana. The younger teen was a passenger.
On the way to Walkerton, the car crashed, leaving the 15-year-old with a "catastrophic brain injury."
A jury found that Rankin's Garage knew or should have known of the potential risk of theft and set its liability at 37 per cent. It found the driver's mother 30 per cent liable, for supplying beer. The driver was held 23 per cent liable and the passenger 10 per cent.
The Ontario Court of Appeal backed the jury's findings.
Court of Appeal Justice Grant Huscroft concluded garage owner James Rankin "could easily have met the standard of care" by locking the car and protecting the keys.
In submissions to the Supreme Court, lawyers for the injured passenger point out the garage owner knew that if he left a car unlocked with the keys inside, someone could take it and get injured.
Nick de Koning of Deutschmann Law, personal injury and disability lawyers in Kitchener, said in an interview the Court of Appeal ruling would not apply to someone who leaves a car unoccupied as it warms up in the driveway in the morning.
Businesses are generally held to a higher standard when it comes to safeguarding the public, he said.
The garage "had a reputation as being an inviting target for joyriders, especially minors," de Koning said. "I don't think that a homeowner ... attracts the same consequences."
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