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Legal,  Personal Injury Law

Supreme Court rules on longstanding liability dispute

On May 11, the Supreme Court of Canada found Chad Rankin, the owner of a garage in the Southwestern Ontario town of Paisley, not liable for injuries sustained in an accident involving a stolen vehicle. The finding – which attracted the attention of more than one curious car accident and personal injury lawyer – overturned an earlier Ontario Court of Appeal decision.

The Event

The case centered on an event that occurred in July 2006. Late one night, two teenagers illegally entered Mr. Rankin’s property. Both had been drinking alcohol, some of which was provided by one of the teens’ mothers, and both had smoked marijuana. The intoxicated teens decided to steal a car and drive to nearby Walkerton, Ontario. They discovered a vehicle with an unlocked door and found the keys in the ashtray.

Tragically, the teens crashed en route to Walkerton. The passenger in the vehicle suffered a catastrophic brain injury.

The Case

The victim’s litigation guardian, with the help of a personal injury lawyer, sought compensation from the driver of the vehicle, the driver’s mother, and Mr. Rankin.

At trial, the court ruled that Mr. Rankin should have realized his garage was vulnerable to theft. He was found 37 per cent liable for the teen’s injuries; the driver of the vehicle was found 23 per cent liable, the driver’s mother 30 per cent liable, and the injured teen 10 per cent liable. This ruling was upheld at the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court disagreed in a 7-2 split decision. While the majority agreed that Mr. Rankin should have understood the risk of theft, they also found that “the fact that something is possible does not mean that it is reasonably foreseeable.”

“It does not automatically flow from evidence of the risk of theft in general that a garage owner should have considered the risk of physical injury,” wrote Justice Andromache Karakatsanis on behalf of the majority. “I do not accept that anyone that leaves a vehicle unlocked with the keys in it should always reasonably anticipate that someone could be injured if the vehicle were stolen. This would extend tort liability too far.”

The dissenting justices found no ‘overriding error in the lower court findings,’ and thus chose not to overturn the decision, according to the National Post.

Call Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers

If you have been injured in a car accident, contact a personal injury lawyer from Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers today to learn how we can help. Our experienced, understanding team can guide you along your road to recovery.

Image credit: Themightyquill/Wikimedia Commons

Greg Neinstein

Greg Neinstein

Greg Neinstein, B.A. LLB., is the Managing Partner at Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers LLP. His practice focuses on serious injury and complex insurance claims, including motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, long-term disability claims and insurance claims. Greg has extensive mediation and trial experience and has a reputation among his colleagues as a skillful negotiator.
Greg Neinstein

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