published Saturday, December 11th, 2010

TN Court: Owner liable for car thief's crash if keys were in vehicle

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee appeals court has ruled that a person can be held responsible for a car thief's crash if the keys were left in the vehicle.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled this week in a case involving a stolen car, a police chase and a wreck in Murfreesboro in May 2007.

The Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the city of Murfreesboro and its police department over a wreck that involved a fleeing stolen vehicle that crashed with a car carrying three people.

But the higher court reversed a decision by the circuit court of Rutherford County and said the suit against a man who left the keys in the car before it was stolen should continue.

The amount of damages sought by those hurt in the crash was not listed. The extent of their injuries also was not included in the appeals court ruling.

Plaintiffs were Sandra Newman and her family, who were in the car hit by an unknown motorist who had stolen the vehicle. They claimed negligence against Rubye Jarrell, who had the car registered; her grandson Joseph D. Ash Jr., who had left keys in the car, and the unknown driver of the other car, listed as John Doe in the suit.

The suit alleged negligence on the part of the Murfreesboro Police Department for pursuing the stolen car prior to the accident May 18, 2007.

The appeals court said it did not matter whether the keys were left in the ignition or the front seat or on the dash board in plain view.

Further, the judges said the car was stolen in what appeared to be a high crime area.

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valleyrider said...

This is a stupid as saying the owner is liable by leaving gas in the car. Even if the owner had left it running with the door open, what's wrong is wrong, and that is taking another person's property without permission regardless of the amount of work it takes to do so. The idiot responsible for this ruling should be busted back to law school 101, or perhaps Sunday school for this lesson.

December 10, 2010 at 12:25 p.m.
Citizen2010 said...

This is one of the worst decisions a court has ever made. As citizens of a free country we all have the right to leave our keys in our vehicle and not have to worry about getting sued. Sure it increased the chances of it getting stolen but on a cold morning I always go start my vehicle and let it warm up. If someone steals it, from that point on anything that happens should be the fault of the theif. Not me or the police. Its always bad when innocent people get hurt but that should still be the fault of the idiot stealing the car. If the court system would punish criminals instead of trying to rehabilitate them, which has been proven ineffective over the last 100 years maybe that guy would have thought twice over stealing that vehicle. I wonder at any point during this case did anyone ever consider holding the thief accountable? Probaly not, because the criminals will always have more rights than us honest law abiding citizens, as long as we as a country continue to elect career politicans or the person with the biggest budgets to offices. Wether it be county, state, or at the federal level. Whoever spends the most money and gets the most media coverage usually wins and we as a country need to refuse to elect these people even if it is the popular choice, if we ever want change.

December 10, 2010 at 12:29 p.m.

I had to read this twice because I knew this had to be in California...

December 10, 2010 at 1:19 p.m.
OldTimer1933 said...

If common sense prevailed and Justice was the goal, about 90% of lawyers would be out of jobs and the majority of today's politicians, including many in the Judicial Branch would be behind bars, IMO.

When a private American citizen makes a mistake and a willful, intentional capitalizes on it, it seems quite puzzling that the unintentional and unwilling victim can be considered to be 'at fault' as if an 'accessory before the fact'.

I also wonder just how these judges would rule if a 'bait car' had been involved because sometimes those cars get lost because of traffic conditions. It seems like another win for the lawbreakers.

I believe that Justice can prevail only if the person who deliberately intitiates an illegal act is held solely and totally accountable for all the consequences resulting from that illegal act which is a form of planned, premeditated 'ambush' to the unsuspecting citizens.

It is unclear whether the car was on a public street or on private property, but the decision STILL seems asinine ...unless you are a lawyer, I guess.

In addition, it would seem that with the same sort of logic, since our borders are not closed, how soon will it be before law abiding American citizens will be forced to pay for any mayhem caused by illegal aliens because our 'agents' in government have even KNOWINGLY 'aided' the lawbreaking border crossers and trespassers by NOT sealing the border?

December 10, 2010 at 3:03 p.m.
alohaboy said...

Makes sense to me. The City isn't liable but if you are stupid enough to leave your keys in a car, you can be sued along with the guy who steals it.

December 10, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.
mrsmusic said...

"...who were in the car hit by an unknown motorist who had stolen the vehicle."

This is the only reason they went after the car owner. Evidently, the person who stole the car was never caught & the 'victims' just wanted to get SOMETHING out of SOMEBODY, no matter who it was!

This is an asinine decision on the courts part & a greedy money-grubbing action on the part of the 'victims'. I'm sorry they were hurt but it CERTAINLY was not the car owner's fault!

December 10, 2010 at 3:45 p.m.
EaTn said...

Keys are just an inconvenience to a car thief who can steal a key-less car in the blink of an eye, locked or unlocked. This was a ruling that would not stand up in a higher court.

December 10, 2010 at 4:10 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

The judge(s) that decided this case are idiots. Just like the 3 Iowa Supreme Court judges that are being kicked off the bench (not retained per a state wide vote) January 1, 2011. The voters of TN should do the same here.

December 10, 2010 at 5:03 p.m.
LibDem said...

Sometimes I spot a car in a parking lot with keys in it. I say to myself, "Some old fool has forgotten his keys." Then I realize it's my car.

December 10, 2010 at 5:10 p.m.
moonpie said...

Headline could have read: Common Sense Eludes TN Court of Appeals

For this ruling to make sense, the court would have to lessen punishments for thieves who find unlocked doors, or keys in cars. The thieves would argue something akin to entrapment or enticement.

The court must think these poor thieves just can't help themselves when faced with such temptation!

Also, it sounds like the people hurt in the crash had no one else to sue, so they picked the people they could identify. This is an injustice because more money is going to have to be spent to defend against the suit. (If I read this correctly, there was not a ruling that anyone is liable. It only says the suit can continue, right?)

December 10, 2010 at 5:52 p.m.

This is simply a representation of how courts are leaning heavily toward corporate entities. Thank the insurance lobby for this position, and the payola that accompanies it in the form of unchecked political donations for corporations to legislators. The courts are just interpreting legislation favorable to big business with a eye toward conservative (read big business) interests in mind. Pass the expense to the poor premium payer who left keys in the car by mistake.

Get used to it, you've been voting for it beginning with Reagan:)

December 10, 2010 at 9:28 p.m.
anonymight said...

I think its the headline that is stupid. The body of the article just said that the trial judge should have allowed the jury to decide the case. What's wrong with that?

December 10, 2010 at 11:42 p.m.
erobersonII said...

This has got to be one of the most idiotic decisions ever. Here's how this can go in the future if it's allowed to stand: I left my door unlocked one night and a burglar/serial killer/rapist/kidnapper/child molester(take your pick of the choices)came through it. I shot the (take your pick) because I woke up and he was in my house. Now, I'm liable for his hospital bills, etc., because I left my front door unlocked? Wake up and take notice, America!

December 11, 2010 at 1:06 a.m.
dailygrace said...

Ok...I am having a tough time with this one. This goes back to NO ONE having to be responsible for their actions. If the thief had not taken the vehicle...none of this would be set in motion, so I can't figure out how it is in any way the fault of the car owner.

Next they will be saying the victims and families of murder, rape, etc need to be accountable for paying for the prison stays of the guilty in those crimes too.

How ridiculous this is.....

December 11, 2010 at 2:03 p.m.
alohaboy said...
  1. The car was left in a high crime area with the keys.
  2. The court said the lower court erred by not letting the case continue. No instruction on how it should be decided.
  3. If you have uninsured/underinsured insurance you must go after the car owner before you can collect on you policy.
  4. All you who think you should be allowed to leave your car in a crime area while you go get a hit without SOME RESPONSIBILITY must feel only one person can cause something like a fight or a wreck.
December 11, 2010 at 8:35 p.m.
GARRS said...

If someone ever punished me over someone stealing something from me and hurting someone else with it, I have to say there would not be one block left on top of the other in the facility that was used to make this mockery of me. I may be wrong, but there is no law on the books that state you MUST not leave your keys in your car, untill now. This is a case where judicial power surpasses the privacy barrier.

Why? Because after everything that has ALREADY been done to me, I would add that to my list of reasons why government and various people think they can do as they please to me. Im personally tired of being victomized, then punished on top of it because I was a victom.

NO individual in the USA, currently has any right to try me in any court of law. I was not only denied my public right, it was forcefully taken from me, and no repair was made, nor did the government cooperate in my desire to make legal complaint. Therefore, your law has no basis against me, I am harmless.

December 11, 2010 at 9:52 p.m.
lilyhope0810 said...

*So what do you think the individuals who were put in a coma, lost a leg, crippled for life, or worse were killed should have to do? Should they have to be the ones responisble for the damages? We all know that the thief will not be and as so it is the responsiblity of a vehicle owner to be smart. Insurance should always stay with a vehicle not with a person. If anyone who bothered to comment has had even a small understanding of how the law and legal system works then they would easily find the rationality in this ruling. While it does not seem exactly fair many times it will seem that way at least to some even if it is the correct logic. If you dont like it then do not drive. Driving is a privilege not a right so please feel free to opt for public transportation, taxis, bikes, or your own two legs if you do not like the rules. Certainly cause and effect creates suffering for the innocent as well but it is time to grow up and see the reality of life. *

March 21, 2011 at 5:37 p.m.
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