The neighbour principle derived from Donoghue v. Stevenson that underlies the Anns/Cooper test continues to animate all of tort law. The pendulum continues to swing regarding who we can properly call our “neighbours” for legal purposes. While limiting who qualifies as our neighbours is necessary to prevent indeterminate liability, a balance must be struck to ensure just and fair outcomes. Rankin (Rankin’s Garage & Sales) v. J.J., in a strong 7-2 decision, represents the Court attempting to strike such a balance.
In Rankin (Rankin’s Garage & Sales) v. J.J. a 15-year-old Plaintiff, J., suffered a catastrophic brain injury as a result of being the passenger in a car accident that occurred after his 16-year-old friend, C., stole a car from Rankin’s Garage & Sales (paras 1-5). Justice Karakatsanis, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada, held that there was no duty of care owed in this case by a business that stores vehicles to someone who is injured following the theft of a vehicle. As such, the appeal was allowed.
There was not sufficient evidence to support the establishment of a duty of care, though Justice Karakatsanis points out that there may be future cases where a duty of care from similar circumstances may exist given that the proper evidentiary threshold is met (paras 2, 41, and 67).
The majority rejected that the case could fall into the category of foreseeable personal injury, because such a category would be too broad (para 28). While the risk of theft was reasonably foreseeable, it was not foreseeable that someone could be injured by the stolen vehicle. There was nothing in the factual matrix that connected the theft and the unsafe driving to substantiate a strong enough inference being drawn, as a mere possibility is not enough (para 40).
“Tort law does not make everyone responsible for the safety of children at all times” (para 61)
Justice Karakatsanis also addressed proximity by stating that there is no positive duty owed to children to secure the vehicles, because garages, though they do benefit financially from servicing cars, “do not have a commercial relationship with, and do not profit from or encourage the persons who might steal the cars” (para 59). Having many vehicles does not necessarily create a risk of personal injury (para 60). Minors do not automatically create an obligation to act – as an establishment of a relationship of care, supervision, and control was not present (para 61).
While the Court in Rankin (Rankin’s Garage & Sales) v. J.J. leaves the possibility of the expansion of the categories of tort law open, this case really highlights the Court’s resistance to the expansion of tort liability. This case follows the trend towards narrower and more precisely defined categories. From the corporate perspective, this may set a precedent whereby businesses are isolated from liability in cases where there is an injury that is “one step removed” from the business.
If you require legal advice regarding these practice areas, please contact Gilbertson Davis LLP for an initial consultation.