Think of those times when you pull up to the curb of a restaurant or store, hop out of the car and just “run in for a second.” You may not give a second thought to leaving the keys in the car or leaving the keys in the ignition and leave the car running. Before you do this again, think about this: What if your car were stolen, the thief wrecks the car and a third-party gets hurt. Can you be held liable? The answer is … maybe.
This subject matter has been litigated in the past. To determine whether the driver of a vehicle who leaves the keys in an unattended vehicle, whose vehicle is then stolen, is responsible for injuries to a third-party, Tennessee courts look to a number of factors in order to analyze liability. The courts will consider any number of factors and those factors include 1) where was the vehicle parked; 2) was the vehicle accessible; 3) the operational condition of the vehicle; and, 4) what time of the day or night was the vehicle left unattended?
The short answer is, yes. Yes, you can be held liable to a third-party if you leave your keys in your unattended vehicle, it’s then stolen, the thief wrecks the vehicle, and a third-party gets hurt. And, consider this: now, many “push button” start engine vehicles will continue to run without the keys in the vehicle.
Best practice, always turn the car off and always take the keys with you.
Tommy Santel is a co-founding partner of Parkerson Santel PLLC. Tommy is a former government prosecutor. He is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 General Civil Mediator. Tommy’s practice areas include criminal defense and civil litigation.
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