McClenahan v. Cooley

806 S.W.2d 767 (Tenn. 1991)

 

RULE:

In order for there to be a cause of action for common law negligence, the following elements must be established: (1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) conduct falling below the applicable standard of care amounting to a breach of that duty; (3) an injury or loss; (4) causation in fact; and (5) proximate, or legal, cause.

 

Proximate Cause/Forseeability: Violation of the statute could be found to be an act of negligence which created a foreseeable risk of the car being taken and driven off. If that occurred, and a party was injured by the negligence of such driver, the injury could be held to have been proximately caused by the negligent act of leaving the car unattended.

FACTS:

The survivor's family members were killed by a car thief who ran a red light. The survivor's complaint contended that the car owner knew or should have known that it was unlawful to leave the keys in the ignition of an unattended vehicle, and that he knew or should have known that the place where he had parked the vehicle created a foreseeable likelihood that the vehicle would be stolen. The claim was made that the actions of the thief were a foreseeable and expected result of the car owner's purported negligence. The lower court held that the intervening negligence of the thief insulated the car owner from liability, and that Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-162 had no application to vehicles left unattended in privately owned parking lots. The state Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's grant of judgment on the pleadings in favor of defendant car owner. The court reversed the lower court and remanded the case, expressly rejecting the contention that an intervening criminal act automatically broke the chain of causation as a matter of law. 

ISSUE:

Does an intervening criminal act automatically break the chain of causation as a matter of law? 

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The court reversed the lower court and remanded the case, expressly rejecting the contention that an intervening criminal act automatically broke the chain of causation as a matter of law. The court concluded that reasonable minds could differ as to whether a person of ordinary prudence and intelligence through the exercise of reasonable diligence could or should have foreseen the theft of an unattended automobile with the keys in the ignition.

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