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Vehicle Dealer Found at Fault For Crash By Thief By “Leaving a Truck Available to be Stolen”

If you own a vehicle that is stolen and the thief injures others in a collision can you be liable?  According to a case released today by the BC Supreme Court, the answer is yes.

In today’s case (Provost v. Bolton) the Defendant stole a truck owned by Chevrolet Dealership. After stealing the vehicle a police pursuit occurred and several crashes arose.

There was no dispute that the thief was liable.  In an interesting development the Court went on to find that the dealership was liable as well and the police bore some liability for engaging in the pursuit.  In finding the dealership partly liable Mr. Justice Kelleher provided the following reasons:

[14]         At about 8:58 a.m. on April 24, 2012, Mr. Katerenchuk left an unlocked one-ton 2011 GMC Sierra K2500 pickup truck (the “Truck”) outside a detail bay at the dealership Dueck. The Truck had been sold and was to be detailed that morning in preparation for delivery to the purchaser.

[15]         The Truck was left outside the dealership detail bay by Mr. Katerenchuk with the keys in the ignition, the engine running, and the doors unlocked. The Truck was parked in an area open to public view. Anyone walking or driving along Terminal Avenue past the dealership could see the Truck, along with other vehicles on the lot, if they looked in that direction.

[16]         The dealership is not fenced in. It is an open area where people can walk around the vehicles…

[19]         The Truck remained parked outside, with the keys in the ignition, the engine running, and doors unlocked for about 40 minutes when the defendant, Mr. Bolton, got in the Truck and drove away…

[146]     Here, I find that it is reasonably foreseeable that a stolen vehicle would cause serious damage and injuries to the police and bystanders in the vicinity of where the police are attempting to recover the stolen vehicle from the thief.

[147]     The Dueck employees called and expected the police to quickly attend to recovering the stolen Truck. Moreover, Dueck authorized OnStar to activate the GPS tracking system in the stolen Truck for the purpose of assisting the police in locating the Truck so that it could be recover

[148]     The circumstances in this case differ from those in cases like Hollett and Spagnolo where the accidents did not occur during the theft.

[149]     I am satisfied that, in these circumstances, it was reasonably foreseeable that persons and property may be injured or damaged during the recovery of a vehicle by the police in the immediate aftermath of a theft…

[161]     In sum, Dueck had a duty to Constable Provost and Ms. Brundige and the Attorney General to secure the vehicle in its lot and Dueck breached this duty and this breach caused the injuries and damages.

In finding the police partly liable for engaging in the pursuit the Court noted as follows:

[188]     Here, I conclude that the breach of the standard of care by RCMP officers is on the part of Constable Whitney, Constable Lee and Corporal Waldron. All three officers engaged in a high speed pursuit of the truck in an urban area in the middle of the day. Moreover, they did not appropriately comply with an order to terminate the pursuit when it was made by Staff Sergeant Stark and repeated by Corporal Peters.

[189]     Constable Whitney heard the order to discontinue the pursuit. His duty was to deactivate his lights and sirens (which he did) and to stop the vehicle at the side of the road and state his location. He did not stop and do that. Instead, he continued following the Truck on River Road…

[201]     Constables Lee and Whitney and Corporal Waldron proceeded to follow the vehicle. I find that they were, as Mr. Laughlin and Constable Hartigan testified, proceeding quickly. Their actions, on a balance of probabilities, caused Mr. Bolton to continue to drive at a high rate of speed. On the evidence, but for their pursuit, the accident with Ms. Brundige would not have occurred.

[202]     I find the defendant, the Minister of Justice for the Province of British Columbia, liable for the negligence of the officers.

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