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N.Y. Veh. & Traf. Law § 1210(a), which prohibits a person in charge of a vehicle from leaving it unattended without removing or hiding the key, deters theft and injury from the operation of motor vehicles by unauthorized persons. In the view of the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, however, its provisions are plainly not designed to protect such unauthorized users from the consequences of their own actions.
After the driver left the keys in the ignition while she ran an errand, a resident of a nearby psychiatric center drove off in the vehicle and died when it struck a tree. The resident's administrator filed a negligence action against the driver and the car owner, and he sought summary judgment on the grounds that the driver's violation of § 1210(a) was the proximate cause of the resident's death. The driver and the car owner filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint. The trial court denied both motions, and both parties appealed.
The court affirmed the judgment that denied the parties' motions for summary judgment. The court held that § 1210(a), which prohibited the driver from leaving the car unattended without removing or hiding the key, was enacted to deter theft and injury from the operation of motor vehicles by unauthorized persons. However, its provisions were not designed to protect such unauthorized users from the consequences of their own actions and the statute could not act as the basis for a finding of proximate cause. Furthermore, the motion for summary judgment filed by the driver and the car owner were properly denied because there were obvious factual issues to be resolved in determining their liability.