This is an appeal from a summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court dismissing appellant April Bruck's negligence claim against appellee Wayne L. Thompson. After Thompson left the ignition key in an unlocked truck on his driveway, a thief took the vehicle, drove negligently and injured Bruck. For the reasons stated hereafter, we affirm.
On August 25, 2001, Thompson was working on his 1987 Ford F-150 truck, which was parked in his private driveway. Between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m., Thompson left home in another vehicle. Upon his return home between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m., his truck was missing. After verifying that none of his sons had borrowed the truck, Thompson reported it as stolen to the police.
Meanwhile, at about 4:00 p.m. that same day, Bruck attempted to cross Dixie Highway on foot. While standing in the center median after crossing two lanes, Bruck was struck by a Ford F-150 truck which narrowly missed her two companions. The truck continued onto the Gene Snyder Parkway and the driver was never identified. Bruck, who suffered injuries to her head, arm and back, was treated and released that evening from the University Hospital. The police found Thompson's Ford F-150 truck abandoned on the Greenbelt Highway the next morning. With the help of witnesses to the accident, the police identified the vehicle as being the truck that hit Bruck.
The record discloses that during his absence from home on August 25, Thompson left his unlocked truck in his driveway with the ignition key on the floorboard. The record indicates that Thompson had a car stolen from his property thirty years earlier,
The Jefferson Circuit Court relied on Frank v. Ralston, 145 F.Supp. 294 (W.D.Ky.1956), in holding as a matter of law that Thompson was not negligent in leaving the key in his unlocked truck because his conduct was not the proximate cause of Bruck's injuries.
A party moving for summary judgment in a negligence case is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the moving party shows that (1) it is impossible for the non-moving party to produce any evidence in the non-moving party's favor on one or more of the issues of fact,
Based on Isaacs v. Smith, Ky., 5 S.W.3d 500, 502 (1999), Bruck argues "`[e]very person owes a duty to every other person to exercise ordinary care in his activities to prevent foreseeable injury'" Id. at 502 (quoting Grayson Fraternal Order of Eagles v. Claywell, Ky., 736 S.W.2d 328, 332 (1987)). In Pathways, the court held "`[t]he most important factor in determining whether a duty exists is foreseeability.'" 113 S.W.3d at 89 (quoting Leibson, 13 Kentucky Practice § 10.3 (1995)). The Restatement (Second) of Torts § 289(a) (1965) provides that "[t]he actor is required
Here, Bruck contends that the risk of theft and her injuries were foreseeable because Thompson left the keys in his unlocked truck on his driveway even though he had a car stolen from that property thirty years earlier, his home was burglarized twice before 1982, he lived in an urban area, he did not know his neighbors, and the yearly rate of car thefts in America has risen from 300,000 in 1960 to 1.2 million in 2000.
Even if we assume, however, that Thompson breached his duty of care and that it was foreseeable that his truck would be stolen, the thief's negligence constituted a superseding cause of Bruck's injury. In Kentucky, a "superseding cause is an independent force" which breaks the chain of causation and relieves the original actor from liability. NKC Hospitals, Inc. v. Anthony, Ky.App., 849 S.W.2d 564, 568 (1993); see also Deutsch v. Shein, Ky., 597 S.W.2d 141 (1980); Commonwealth Dept.
In NKC Hospitals, 849 S.W.2d at 568, this court summarized various authorities and concluded that a superseding cause will possess the following attributes:
In this case, the original action was the leaving of the key in the car, and the intervening act was the negligent driving of the thief. All the factors indicate that the thief's intervening action, i.e., his negligent driving, was a superseding cause, which was not reasonably foreseeable. Thus, the leaving of the key in the truck was a negligent act which merely created a condition.
Courts in other jurisdictions that have addressed this issue as it relates to vehicles taken from private property have similarly held that the owners of such vehicles are not liable for the actions of negligent thieves. See Hensler v. Renn, 166 Ill.App.3d 819, 823, 117 Ill.Dec. 759, 520 N.E.2d 1110, 1112 (1988) (holding that the owner who left keys in a vehicle at a convenience store parking lot was not liable for the injuries caused to a third person by a negligent thief because "there were no special circumstances which would have put the defendant on notice that a theft was likely to occur");
In the present case, the evidence that Thompson did not know his neighbors and that he lived in an urban neighborhood did not constitute a special circumstance. Moreover, a car theft 30 years earlier did not establish a pattern of thefts such that Thompson was on notice that another theft was imminent. Thus, no special circumstance existed which provided Thompson with sufficient notice that a theft was likely to occur. Further, the thief's negligence was an independent unforeseeable act which intervened between Thompson's act in leaving the key in an unlocked truck on his driveway and Bruck's injuries. That intervening act was a superseding cause which relieved Thompson of liability. We conclude, therefore, that the circuit court properly held that it would be impossible for Bruck to produce evidence at trial warranting a judgment in her favor. Hubble v. Johnson, Ky., 841 S.W.2d 169 (1992); Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Service Center, Ky., 807 S.W.2d 476 (1991). Thus, the summary judgment was properly granted.
The judgment of the Jefferson Circuit Court is affirmed.