Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Mass. App. remands textbook 'keys-in-ignitions' case on foreseeability analysis

Today the Massachusetts Appeals Court published a clean and concise opinion on negligence, focusing on foreseeability as an aspect of duty.  The decision covers basic elements and points of civil procedure, so could be of use to tort profs introducing negligence this semester.  The case is R.L. Currie Corp. v. East Coast Sand & Gravel, Inc., No. 17-P-1186 (Aug. 21, 2018).

The facts are a classic keys-left-in-car-then-stolen scenario, unfortunately involving heavy equipment instead of a car.  Employee of defendant snow-plow service left a front loader running idle and unlocked in a shared company lot.  There had been previous thefts of materials, but not heavy machinery.  Keys were routinely left in unlocked vehicles, but hidden.  In the employee's four-hour absence, the loader was driven by an unknown third party and crashed into two of plaintiff's trucks.

The trial court dismissed for failure of foreseeability, deciding no duty as a matter of law and awarding summary judgment.  The court here aptly reiterated the dual role of foreseeability as an aspect of duty and of causation.  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court previously declined to adopt a doctrine of no liability as a matter of law for "keys left in ignitions" cases, employing general notions of foreseeability instead.  Upon such precedents, the appellate court remanded, concluding that the trial court erred in finding intentional vandalism beyond the scope of foreseeability as a matter of law.

Incidentally, the panel author is relatively new to the court, since July 2017.  Associate Justice Dalila Wendlandt is New Orleans born (close to my heart) and was a proper engineer who built robots at MIT before going to law school, joining the IP litigation group at Ropes & Gray, and publishing in patent law.

[UPDATE, Aug. 25: Only days after this case was decided, shocking video came to light in an ambulance-keys-in-ignition story in my home state of Rhode Island that could fuel law school hypotheticals for months. Miraculously those involved sustained only minor injuries, and complicating matters, the teen perpetrator was autistic. No criminal charges are anticipated. See WJAR Providence.]

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