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 ‚Äď which attracted the attention of more than one curious car accident and personal injury lawyer ‚Äď overturned an earlier Ontario Court of Appeal decision.
The case centered on an event that occurred in July 2006. Late one night, two teenagers illegally entered Mr. Rankin‚Äôs property. Both had been drinking alcohol, some of which was provided by one of the teens‚Äô 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 victim‚Äôs litigation guardian, with the help of a personal injury lawyer, sought compensation from the driver of the vehicle, the driver‚Äôs 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‚Äôs injuries; the driver of the vehicle was found 23 per cent liable, the driver‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúthe fact that something is possible does not mean that it is reasonably foreseeable.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIt 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,‚ÄĚ wrote Justice Andromache Karakatsanis on behalf of the majority. ‚ÄúI 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.‚ÄĚ
The dissenting justices found no ‚Äėoverriding error in the lower court findings,‚Äô and thus chose not to overturn the decision, according to the National Post.
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First published at https://www.neinstein.com/2018/05/23/personal-injury-lawyer-liability-dispute/