In the case where someone steals a car – and then gets into an accident, who is legally responsible for the accidents and the ensuing injuries? The following discusses liability for various parties in an accident involving a stolen vehicle.
First, the actual thief is legally liable. That person has caused an injury based on their wrongful operation of the stolen vehicle. This is a violation of your rights and that person can be held liable for the ensuing injury and damage they have caused (in addition to the crime of stealing a vehicle.)
Next, in general, the owner of the vehicle cannot be liable for the damages and injuries caused by the car thief. This is due to the fact, that an owner generally must give permission for them to be a liable party in the eventual accident. In the case where the car has been stolen, the owner has certainly not given the thief permission to use their vehicle.
Courts have ruled that even in cases where the owner leaves keys in the vehicle unattended, the owner is generally not liable for the eventual damages or injuries. This same rationale applies to rental car agencies or auto repair shops that leave the keys in the ignition of their vehicles located in a secured lot.
However, there are “special circumstances” where the vehicle owner may be found independently liable for injuries from an accident involving stolen vehicles. These special circumstances are based on the fact that it is reasonable that an incompetent driver would be enticed to try use the vehicle.
For instance, if a driver leaves their car, with the keys in the ignition, outside of a middle school, then you could argue that it would be reasonable to expect that children may tamper with the vehicle. Middle school aged children are incompetent drivers, based on age and experience, and the driver has been negligent in their placement of the vehicle. This could create an enticement of a child and ultimately may lead to liability for the vehicle owner.
Another situation where the owner has likely enticed incompetent drivers, would be in the case where the owner left the keys in the ignition of a bulldozer. Heavy vehicles and construction equipment pose a significant risk of harm and injury to the public, and the owner owes a duty to secure these vehicles. If a bulldozer was left unattended it may entice an incompetent driver to steal it. The thief would be incompetent by virtue of not knowing how to operate a bulldozer.
The key in these cases is the “special circumstances.” The special circumstances are specific to the case and can be a point of heavy contention and argument.
If you or your loved one has been injured in a car accident involving a stolen vehicle, please contact the experienced San Diego personal injury attorneys at Martinez & Schill LLP to discuss the liability of all parties in car accidents. Our personal injury attorneys are experienced in determining causation in a particular car accident and may be able to offer insight into potentially culpable parties. We don’t get paid until we recover compensation on your behalf, so call today for a free consultation. San Diego 619-512-5995 or Riverside 951-200-4630.