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Herrera v. Quality Pontiac

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiffs sued Defendant for wrongful death and personal injury. Defendant moved to dismiss. The trial court granted the motion. Herrera appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    One can be held liable in negligence for the criminal actions of a third party that result in injury.

    Facts.

    An individual took his car to Quality Pontiac (Defendant), located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for repairs. Defendant instructed the individual to leave his keys in the car. The Defendant lot had a fence surrounding the lot, but the gate was unlocked. Garcia entered the lot and looked into that car for something to steal. Discovering the keys in the car, Garcia stole the car. An officer observed Garcia speeding and pursued him. During the pursuit, Garcia collided with a car occupied by Ruiz and Encinias (Plaintiffs), killing one occupant and seriously injuring another. Herrera, the personal representative of Plaintiffs, sued Defendant for wrongful death and personal injury. Defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Herrera objected to the motion. Herrera submitted an affidavit of a sociologist averring that Albuquerque had the second-highest motor vehicle theft rate in the country at the time of the accident. The affidavit also stated that the accident rate for stolen cars is about 200 times the accident rate for cars that have not been stolen. The trial court granted the motion. Herrera appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether one can be held liable in negligence for the criminal actions of a third party that result in injury.

     

    Held.

    Yes. Defendant has breached its duty of care, but a jury must determine if the breach was the proximate cause of the alleged injuries. One can be held liable in negligence for the criminal actions of a third party that result in injury.

    Discussion.

    One owes a duty for any injuries that are a foreseeable result of their conduct. However, as a general rule, one does not have a duty to protect another from injuries caused by a third person, unless there is a special relationship that gives rise to the duty or the criminal acts were a foreseeable result of one’s conduct. With regard to injuries, a plaintiff must prove that the actions of an alleged tortfeasor are the proximate cause of the victim’s injuries. This is a factual question that must be submitted to the trier of fact. In the current matter, due to the high rate of theft in Albuquerque and the high accident rate for stolen cars, it was foreseeable that instructing the individual to leave his keys in the car could lead to theft that would lead to injury. Therefore, under these facts, Defendant has breached a duty of ordinary care. With regard to injuries, whether Defendant’s breach could be considered the proximate cause of Ruiz’s and Encinias’s injuries must be submitted to the jury.


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