Is a Car Owner Liable for Injuries Caused by Someone Who Steals His or Her Car?
A car accident may be more than one person’s fault. Connecticut law recognizes this fact and allows a jury to apportion blame among multiple negligent defendants. But what happens when a defendant’s negligence precedes a third party’s criminal act? Does the intervening crime absolve the negligent defendant of responsibility for the accident victim’s injuries?
Stamford-Norwalk Jury Rules Against Pedestrian Accident Victim
The Connecticut Appellate Court recently addressed such a case. The plaintiff was a pedestrian struck by a taxicab that was driven onto the sidewalk. Pedestrian accidents are often the most physically and financially devastating since the victim lacks any protection from the full weight of a moving car. Indeed, the victim here sustained “severe physical injuries” that required “millions of dollars in medical” procedures, according to court records.
As it turned out, the taxicab had been stolen. The driver left the cab running with the keys in the ignition, and teenagers took the vehicle for a “joyride.” After rear-ending another vehicle, the thieves quickly fled the scene, during the course of which they drove onto the sidewalk and hit the victim.
The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver and owner of the taxicab. She alleged their negligence in leaving the cab unattended caused her injuries. The defendants argued the “intervening act” of the teenagers stealing the cab absolved them of any liability.
A jury ultimately ruled for the defendants. On appeal, the appellate court upheld the verdict, noting this was a case where the teenagers’ criminal conduct was a superseding cause of the accident for which the defendants could not be held responsible. Historically, a defendant was not liable under Connecticut law if an intervening act by a third party – i.e., a superseding cause – broke the chain of causation between the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injury.
But in 2003, the Connecticut Supreme Court abolished the “superseding cause” rule in personal injury cases, except where there is an “intentional tort, act of nature, or criminal event.” In this case, the appellate court said there was a “criminal event” – the teenagers stealing the taxicab – that allowed the jury to find that was the superseding cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, not the cab driver’s negligence.
Need Help from a Connecticut Personal Injury Lawyer?
Establishing liability in a personal injury case can be difficult when multiple parties are involved. That is why you need to work with an experienced Waterford-New London, Connecticut, car accident attorney who understands the legal system and will fight for your rights. Contact Polito & Harrington LLC today if you have been in an auto accident in Connecticut or Rhode Island and need to schedule a consultation right away.