Case Commentary – The Duty of Care in Personal Injury Claims

Recently, we discussed the concept of the duty of care in the context of medical malpractice claims. This is also an element of other negligence claims, and a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision has clarified the legal test to determine whether a duty of care exists.

The duty of care in negligence

Generally speaking, a duty of care is owed where there is a sufficiently close relationship between two parties such that the harm that befell the plaintiff was the reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s actions, and there are no good reasons to find that a duty should not exist.

This analysis often turns on what is “reasonably foreseeable” as a consequence, that is to say, whether an objective and reasonable individual would consider the negative outcome to have been foreseeable. This must be done in the absence of hindsight; simply because an outcome manifested, and that it would have been possible to imagine or conceive of that outcome, it does not follow that it was reasonably foreseeable.

Rankin v. J.J.

This case arose after two teenagers stole a vehicle from a garage. The driver, who did not hold a license and was under the influence of alcohol, crashed, rendering the passenger catastrophically injured. The passenger sued the garage, claiming that they were negligent in leaving the vehicle unlocked with the keys in the ashtray.

At trial, and at the Court of Appeal, the garage was found to owe a duty of care to the minor plaintiff to lock vehicles, such that they could not be stolen. They found the garage 37% liable, which was a higher amount than the driver of the vehicle, or his mother who served the boys alcohol and failed to supervise them thereafter.

The Supreme Court addressed whether the garage owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, and disagreed. There was no evidence before the lower courts to show that theft by minors was reasonably foreseeable in the circumstances, and no special relationship or circumstances existed to require the garage to take additional steps to secure vehicles. It could not be considered reasonably foreseeable that an intoxicated minor would steal a vehicle and cause serious injuries.

The claim against the garage was dismissed in its entirety.

Toronto personal injury lawyers for serious injured victims 

If you have been seriously injured in an automobile accident, your first step should be speaking to a qualified and experienced personal injury lawyer. At Derfel Injury Law, our lawyers assist victims in their claims for damages, and can help identify every potential avenue for compensation.

To discuss your potential claim with one of our lawyers, contact us online or call 416-847-3580 to make an appointment. We can meet with potential clients in Toronto.