The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a commercial car garage did not owe a duty of care to a person who was injured following the theft of a vehicle from its premises.
In Rankin (Rankin’s Garage & Sales) v. J.J., a teenager, J.J., who suffered a catastrophic brain injury, sued Rankin’s Garage & Sales, among other parties, for negligence because the car that he and another teenager stole from the car garage while inebriated had been left unlocked with the keys in the ashtray. At trial, multiple parties were found liable for J.J.’s injuries, which occurred after his friend C.C., who was driving the car, crashed it on the highway. The jury found that Rankin’s Garage, C.C., C.C.’s mother, who gave beer to the boys, and J.J. were all liable for the injury. Rankin’s Garage & Sales appealed the decision, and the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s finding that Rankin owed a duty of care to J.J., dismissing the appeal.
Writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, Justice Andromache Karakatsanis disagreed with the Ontario Court of Appeal’s ruling. “Aside from evidence that could establish a risk of theft in general, there was nothing else to connect the risk of theft of the car to the risk of someone being physically injured. For example, Rankin’s Garage had been in operation for many years and no evidence was presented to suggest that there was ever a risk of theft by minors at any point in its history,” Karakatsanis wrote, with Chief Justice McLachlin (as she then was) and Justices Abella, Moldaver, Wagner, Côté and Rowe concurring.