Police are investigating a car accident in southern St. Joseph that involved a stolen vehicle. According to initial reports, the vehicle was driven into an abandoned building, injuring the driver. No other cars were involved.
Stolen Vehicle Rams into Building
The incident happened in the evening on Saturday, April 15, 2017, near the intersection of Illinois Street and Lake Avenue in southern St. Joseph. According to the initial police reports, a man lost control of the vehicle he was driving, which is reported to have been stolen, into an abandoned building. The driver was hurt in the single-vehicle accident.
So far, no one has been taken into custody, suggesting that the driver at the time might not have been the one who stole the car. The crash, though, raises an interesting legal question: If the owner of a car leaves it easy for a thief to steal it and the thief then goes and crashes the car, is the owner liable for the damages?
Car Owners Are Rarely Liable for Damages After a Theft
Different states handle this issue differently. Many states allow an accident victim to get compensation from the car owner. However, Missouri is not one of these states. Here, the answer is usually that the owner of a car is not liable in a subsequent personal injury case for damages caused by the car thief.
In several different cases from the Missouri appellate courts, judges decided that a car thief’s criminal conduct was enough to take the car’s true owner off the hook for any resulting damages. The main reason for this was that, even if the owner of the car was negligent in locking the vehicle and preventing a thief from getting inside and driving away, this oversight was too remote to make it fair to have the owner pay for a resulting crash: The real cause of the crash was the thief.
Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult for an accident victim to get the compensation they deserve. If you’ve been involved in a car accident that was caused by a car thief, it’s far less likely that the thief has the insurance to cover your injuries, and even less likely that they have the funds to pay for your losses out of pocket. Being able to sue the car owner would have given you another potential source of compensation.
There are a couple of caveats to this, though. The first is that, while all of the cases dealing with this issue have come from Missouri appellate courts, none of them have come from the Missouri Supreme Court. Until our state’s Supreme Court weighs in on the issue, it’s technically unsettled law. The second caveat is that these cases leave open the possibility for special circumstances to exist that would allow a crash victim to bring a case against the owner of a stolen vehicle. These circumstances or relationships would have to make it more foreseeable for the stolen vehicle to hurt you, though, and there have not yet been any examples of what they are.