The Driver Who Hit Me Took a Vehicle that Was Left Unattended with the Keys in the Ignition. Can I Sue the Vehicle’s Owner?

If you’ve been injured in a vehicle accident, you probably understand that the operator of the vehicle is someone who potentially is liable for your injuries. However, there may be others, even if they were not involved firsthand in the accident itself, who may owe you compensation. In order to pursue these others successfully, you have to be able to show that the ultimate incident that injured you was the foreseeable result of that party’s action or inaction. To be sure your case includes all of the individuals and entities who potentially may be liable to you, be sure you’ve retained an experienced Massachusetts injury attorney.

A recent ruling from the Appellate Court is a reminder that, even if someone took a vehicle without the owner’s authorization, there may be facts that allow you to pursue the vehicle’s owner. That recent case was actually a property damage case, not an injury action. A sand and gravel company’s employee left a front-end loader unattended during a snowstorm, with the keys in the ignition, idling. The employee left the vehicle at 10 P.M. and at 2 A.M., he returned to the lot. Sometime during the intervening four hours, an “unknown and unauthorized” person had taken the vehicle and smashed into two trucks belonging to another company, substantially damaging them.

The owner of the damaged trucks sued. The trial judge threw out his case, deciding that the damage was not a “foreseeable consequence” of leaving the keys in the front-end loader. The appeals court reversed that decision and revived the damaged trucks’ owner’s case.

So what, you might wonder, should this mean to you if you’re injured in a vehicle accident? Potentially, it means a great deal. Although this recent case from Essex County involved only property damage, the legal issues would have been the same if the driver had caused personal injuries in the crash, as opposed to merely causing property damage.

For any negligence claim to succeed, the harm that results must be foreseeable, in the eyes of the law, in order for the injured person to obtain compensation. That issue of foreseeability is where this truck case is so important. The appeals court rules that an unknown third party’s absconding with a vehicle and causing harm was a foreseeable consequence of leaving a vehicle with its keys in the ignition, unlocked and running. Specifically, the appeals court recalled a Supreme Judicial Court personal injury case where a drunken seaman ran over a pedestrian with a forklift. Because an employee of the forklift’s owner left the keys in the ignition, the court ruled that the injured pedestrian could seek compensation from the owner of the forklift, as the accident and injuries were a foreseeable consequence of leaving the keys in the ignition.

Personal injuries can come wrapped in a wide variety of preceding facts. Sometimes, your case is straightforward and may have only one defendant. Sometimes, the facts are complex and the defendants are numerous. Regardless of which of these applies to your injuries, be sure you have the legal representation you need. Skilled Plymouth County injury lawyer Michael S. Mehrmann has spent many years effectively representing people from across Plymouth County, including Kingston, Plymouth, Marshfield, Hanson, Carver, Pembroke, and Duxbury in their personal injury cases. To find out more about how we can help you, call (781) 585-3911 or contact us online.