Rear-End Collision with Stolen Police Vehicle

I have been contacted by a family whose 18 year old daughter was injured when her vehicle was struck from behind at a high rate of speed on October 21, 2012. The catch is – the defendant was driving a stolen police car. Apparently, the police officer left his vehicle running while it was parked, allowing it to be stolen. The accident occurred during the high speed chase. Of course, the City Attorney sent a letter to the family denying the claim based on the fact vehicle was stolen. However, being unfamiliar with applicable state law, would liability lie for the officer’s conduct?

Answer: You may be able to make this one. See: Cruz v. Middlekauff Lincoln-Mercury, Inc., 909 P.2d 1252 (Utah 1996). Here’s the conclusion by the court: "A vehicle owner ordinarily is not liable to third parties injured by the negligent driving of a thief, even if the owner leaves the key in the vehicle's ignition. However, this is allegedly not a typical key-in-ignition case. Special circumstances are alleged that, if true, may have put Middlekauff on notice that its cars were targeted by thieves; yet it continued its key-in-ignition policy and other loose practices. Once the car was stolen, it may have been foreseeable that it would be operated in a manner hazardous to the public. Middlekauff's burden of securing the keys to its parked vehicles was slight, especially when compared to the severe damages which might-and here did-result from the theft of one of them.”