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Liney v. Chestnut Motors, Inc. - 421 Pa. 26, 218 A.2d 336 (1966)

Rule:

The question of proximate cause is generally for the jury. However, if the relevant facts are not in dispute and the remoteness of the causal connection between the defendant's negligence and the plaintiff's injury clearly appears, the question becomes one of law.

Facts:

Defendant Chestnut Motors, Inc. ("Chestnut") operated an automobile sales agency and garage in an area of the city that had been experiencing a high and increasing number of automobile thefts. About ten o'clock a.m. on a particular day, a customer's automobile was delivered to the garage for repairs. Chestnut's employees allowed the automobile to remain outside the building, double-parked in the street and with the key in the ignition. About three hours later, it was stolen by an adult stranger, who then drove it around the block in such a careless manner that it mounted a sidewalk and struck a pedestrian, plaintiff Catherine V. Liney, which caused her serious injury. Liney filed a trespass action against Chestnut in Pennsylvania state court. Chestnut filed preliminary objections to the complaint in the nature of a demurrer. The trial court sustained the objections and dismissed Liney's action. Liney appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in holding that Liney failed to state a cause of action against Chestnut?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court affirmed the trial court's order. The court found that assuming that Chestnut's employees were negligent in permitting the automobile to remain outside in the street double parked with the keys in the car, it was clear that Chestnut could not have anticipated and foreseen that such carelessness of its employees would result in the harm that Liney suffered. Moreover, the court ruled, the thief's careless operation of the automobile was a superseding cause of Liney's injury, and Chestnut's negligence, if such existed, was only a remote cause of the injury upon which no action would lie.

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