Supreme Court



Duty and standard of care

Having many vehicles did not necessarily create risk of personal injury

Plaintiff J and his friend, who were teenagers, stole car from defendant R’s commercial car garage and went joyriding. At car garage, car had been left unlocked on unsecured lot with keys in ashtray. Witnesses testified R had practice of leaving cars unlocked with keys in them and it was known that vehicle theft in area was common. J was passenger in car driven by his friend, who had been drinking, and did not have driver’s licence and had never driven car. Car crashed and J suffered catastrophic brain injury. Jury found R was negligent and J was contributorily negligent and R unsuccessfully appealed trial court decision. Appeals court found that R had care and control of many vehicles for commercial purposes, and with that came responsibility of securing them against minors, in whose hands they were potentially dangerous, and it was also found that R’s garage was easily accessible by anyone and risk of theft was clear. R appealed. Appeal allowed. It was found that evidentiary basis was required before court could conclude that risk of theft included risk of theft by minors, and there was no such evidence in this case. There was no evidence that J or his friend were targeting R’s garage in particular, as they were looking all over town for unlocked cars and court of appeal relied on speculation to connect risk of theft to risk of personal injury, which was inappropriate. Having many vehicles did not necessarily create risk of personal injury and while cars could be dangerous in case they were operated by someone who did not know how to drive, this risk could only realistically exist in certain circumstances. There were circumstances where courts recognized a specific duty of care owed to children, however, these duties were imposed based on relationship of care, supervision, and control, rather than age of child alone and such relationship did not exist here between garage owner and plaintiff.

Rankin (Rankin's Garage & Sales) v. J.J. (2018), 2018 CarswellOnt 7370, 2018 CarswellOnt 7371, 2018 SCC 19, 2018 CSC 19, McLachlin C.J.C., Abella J., Moldaver J., Karakatsanis J., Wagner J., Gascon J., Côté J., Brown J., and Rowe J. (S.C.C.); reversed (2016), 2016 CarswellOnt 15069, 2016 ONCA 718, G.R. Strathy C.J.O., David Brown J.A., and Grant Huscroft J.A. (Ont. C.A.).

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