Garage owner partially to blame for teen thief’s injuries

The appeal court reasoned that due to lack of security measures at his garage, Rankin was to blame. (Photo: iStock)
The appeal court reasoned that due to lack of security measures at his garage, Rankin was to blame. (Photo: iStock)

There are court decisions that leave a person scratching their head. The following case is one of them.

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently ruled that a Bruce County, Ont. garage owner is partially responsible for the injuries a teenager, who helped steal a car from his garage, suffered after a car crash. The teen suffered a catastrophic brain injury and sued the garage owner.

The events that led to the court case occurred a decade ago when the 15-year old, identified by the court only by the initials J.J., got drunk at his friend’s C.C.’s house. C.C.’s mother had bought a case of beer for the teens and then went to sleep. A bottle of vodka and a marijuana joint were also found.

The teens then decided to steal things from unlocked cars and happened upon Rankin’s Garage & Sales, owned by James Rankin. There they found an unlocked car, keys in the ashtray and decided to take a joyride. C.C. drove and J.J. was in the passenger seat. C.C. crashed the car.

A lower court ruled that Rankin is partially responsible for J.J.’s injuries, though they also apportioned blame to C.C., his mother and J.J.

Rankin received a higher percentage of blame than the others, “because people who [are] entrusted with the possession of motor vehicles must assure themselves that the youth in their community are not able to take possession of such dangerous objects.”

Rankin appealed but the appeal court agreed with the trial court.

The appeal court reasoned that due to lack of security measures at his garage, Rankin was to blame. The area had problems with car thefts in the past.

“The risk of theft was clear” the court reasoned and went even further and said, “In these circumstances, it was foreseeable that minors might take a car fromRankin’sGaragethat was made easily available to them.”

Though risk of theft may have been foreseeable, it seems a bit of a stretch to say that the garage owner should have known that a bunch of drunken teenagers, who were supplied alcohol by a parent, would crash a car that they stole from his garage.

The decision also holds the victim accountable for the thief’s injuries. Do we really want case law to say that the victim of the crime should have protected the criminal?

Rankin’s appeal lawyer told The Toronto Sun that he expects his client will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
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