South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Car Dealer Negligent Toward Victims of Crash Caused by Car Stolen from Dealership
Description New Mexico high court held that it was negligent of a car dealer to leave cars, with keys in the ignition, in an unlocked area over night, such that a thief could steal a car and later be involved in a fatal accident. The car dealer violated its duty of care to the victims of the crash.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence; Duty of Care; Proximate Cause
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts A person took his car to a dealership for repairs. The service manager said to leave the keys in the car. The car was left unlocked overnight in a fenced area with an unlocked gate. Garcia stole the vehicle during the night. The next day Garcia spotted by police, and he took off at high speed. Garcia crashed into another car, killing one and injuring another. The victims sued the car dealer for negligence. The trial court dismissed the case; plaintiffs appealed.
Decision

Reversed. “Negligence encompasses the concepts of foreseeability of harm to the person injured and of a duty of care toward that person.” Questions of foreseeability, as they relate to duty of care and proximate cause, are distinct; the first must be decided as a matter of law by the judge, using established legal policy in determining whether a duty was owed the plaintiff, and the second, proximate cause, is a question of fact. The owner or one in possession of a vehicle who leaves a key in the ignition of an unattended and unlocked car owes a duty of ordinary care to those individuals injured in an accident involving the vehicle when a thief steals the car and negligently or criminally causes an accident. The acts of the business, directing the owner to leave the keys in the car, and then leaving the car unlocked in an unlocked area, and the accident that resulted when the car was stolen is not so remote as to preclude a finding of proximate cause.

Citation Herrera v. Quality Pontiac, --- P.3d --- (2003 WL 21708714, Sup. Ct., N.M., 2003)

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