Ney v. Yellow Cab Co.

Illinois Supreme Court, 1954.

2 Ill.2d 74, 117 N.E.2d 74.

Prosser, pp. 207-210

 

Facts: The defendant company left the keys in the ignition of one of their cabs.  The cab got stolen and it crashed into the plaintiff’s property.  The plaintiff sues on the theory that the company violated a statute that forbids leaving a car unattended with the keys in the ignition.  The defendant argues that the statute was not an anti-theft measure, but rather a public safety measure, and thus it does not establish a reasonable standard of conduct.

 

Issue: What was the intent of the statute?  Did the violation of the statute cause the injury, or did the act of the thief intervene such that the violation was not the proximate cause?

 

Rule: A standard of conduct established by statute will be adopted when, among other things, it is designed to protect against the harm that actually resulted.[1]

 

Analysis: The majority finds that the question of the intent of the statute is tied up with the question of proximate cause.  The court argues that the cab company’s violation of statute was a proximate cause of the harm if the theft of the cab was foreseeable.  If the theft of the car was unforeseeable, then the responsibility for the harm caused to the plaintiff would fall solely on the thief.  The court finds that this question ought to be left to the jury.  The jury apparently found that the defendant’s conduct was a proximate cause of the harm, and the majority refuses to “usurp” the jury’s power.

 

The dissenting justice believes that legislative intent is the key to this case.  He believes that the statute was intended solely as a public safety measure.  This justice almost seems to imply that the operative question is not what harm the defendant might have foreseen in leaving the car unattended, but what harm the legislature might have foreseen in crafting the statute.

 

Conclusion: The court affirmed the verdict.


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[1] Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 286(c)