A personal injury case out of British Columbia deals with commercial liability. It is uncommon that a business could be tagged with liability in a personal injury claim when that business is not tied to the operation of the vehicle that caused the accident nor did the business consent to the usage of the vehicle. The case of Provost v. Bolton is an exception.
In this case, David Bolton stole a vehicle from a GMC dealership. Mr. Bolton then got into a series of accidents causing injuries to a number of Plaintiff’s. The Plaintiff’s then commenced litigation against a Mr. Bolton as well as against the GMC dealership for negligently leaving the vehicle available to be stolen.
The evidence at trial was that the particular vehicle had been recently sold. It was soon to be picked up and prior to doing so, the dealership was going to detail the car. The car was driven by an employee around towards the garage area of the dealership and left there until it was detailed. Were it was left, the vehicle remained unlocked with the keys in the ignition in an area open to public view, just outside of the dealership. The vehicle could be seen by anyone walking or driving past the dealership. The vehicle ended up being parked outside for approximately 40 minutes before Mr. Bolton got in the vehicle and drove away with it.
The policies at the GMC dealership were such that the vehicle keys are to remain in a safe area and only accessible by employees. Leaving the keys in the car and the doors open were breaches of company policy. It was found that the dealership does owe a duty of care to the public to prevent such thefts and accidents from occurring. The law is such that, the facts must give rise the a reasonable level of foreseeability to the owner of the vehicle that a theft may occur and also that an injury may occur. In this case it was clear that the truck was there to be stolen and therefore it met the first part of the foreseeability test. The second of the test was met as a stolen vehicle is likely to be driven more carelessly and consequently it is foreseeable that it may be involved in an injury collision.
While the bulk of the liability in this case was understandably placed on the individual that stole the vehicle, the Court found that the GMC dealership was also responsible. The Judge stated:
“Dueck’s [The Dealership’s] negligence created the situation that was highly tempting to any opportunistic would be thief. Given the character of the dealership location, the size of the Truck, and the complete lack of care exercised by [The Dealership’s] staff, I assess [The Dealership’s] blameworthiness at 15% in all three actions.”
This is a very significant finding as it has expanded the spectrum of liability in stolen vehicle situations. The complete decision may be found at: