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Herrera v. Quality Pontiac

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The Supreme Court of New Mexico ruled that a defendant can be held liable for negligence for the criminal actions of a third party. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Any party can be liable for negligence for any criminal activity committed by a third party. 

    Facts.

    A customer dropped of his car at Quality Pontiac (Defendant) for automotive repairs. The Quality auto shop instructed the customer to leave his keys in the vehicle. A third part looking to steal something in vehicles nearby saw that the customer’s vehicle had his keys in the car and proceeded to steal the car. While fleeing the scene the criminal crashed into Ruiz and Encinias (Plaintiffs) vehicle killing one of the and injuring the other. Plaintiff’s attorneys filed a wrongful death and personal injury claim against the defendant. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss. At trial, the plaintiff showed that the city of Albuquerque (where the incident took place) had the second highest automobile theft rate. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and plaintiffs appeal.  

    Issue.

    Whether a defendant can be held liable for a third party’s criminal acts which result in injury? 

    Held.

    Yes. The Supreme Court of New Mexico determined that a person owes a duty to protect the public from any foreseeable harm which in this case includes the theft and collision of an automobile because of the high rate of automobile theft. Furthermore, the plaintiff’s attorney provided evidence that when an automobile is stolen it is 200 more times likely to be involved in an accident further proving the reasonably foreseeable injury claim. 

    Discussion.

    The court emphasized that the jury still must decide whether the defendant proximately caused the injury. In the case at bar, the high rate of theft as well as the increased rate of automobile crashes allows the jury to conclude that injury was foreseeable. 


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