AFTER CAR IS STOLEN IS OWNER RESPONSIBLE FOR ACCIDENT?
Our car accident attorneys were asked this question, and the answer is the owner is probably not responsible if the stolen vehicle caused a crash. Under Minnesota law, the owner of the vehicle is responsible for any injuries caused by the operation of the vehicle with the owner’s express or implied permission. So if the owner of the car allows a friend or relative to borrow the car and it gets into an accident, the owner is responsible and his or her insurance will have to pay for the damage. However, if the vehicle was stolen, there was no permission, so the car owner is usually not responsible for the accident.
Where the question can get more complicated, is if the owner of the car leaves the car and keys out in a way that it is foreseeable that the car will get taken without express permission. For example, our lawyers were recently asked about a case in MN where the car was left running with the keys in the ignition while the driver went into a convenience store. That kind of scenario may happen when it is very cold outside and the driver wants to keep the car warm, or just out of laziness. In that situation, it is possible that the vehicle owner would be found to have given implied permission to the person who stole it. There are several court cases that have discussed this scenario in different contexts, e.g. where the keys are left in the ignition but the vehicle is not running and is in a secure area, where the keys are left on the kitchen counter and a relative takes the vehicle without permission, etc. There are at least two reported cases in Minnesota that discuss the situation where the car is left unlocked, running with the keys in the ignition in a public place and the car is then stolen, and liability on the owner was found in both cases.
Pam Rochlin and David Rochlin are car accident lawyers with 25 years’ experiencing representing people injured in vehicle crashes throughout MN. We have represented several people injured in an accident with a stolen car, or where the owner of the car said they did not give permission for the driver to take it. Oftentimes, these cases are complicated and depend on the specific facts of the case. Please call us and speak with a lawyer about your specific situation.