If my car was stolen while in a shop for repair work, is it responsible?

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If my car was stolen while in a shop for repair work, is it responsible?

We took the car into the shop for repair work, the third day it was there, someone broke into the shop, and stole a number of keys, the thief returned later and stole my car. The shop never took any steps to notify me about the keys until after the event took place. They are claiming that since the keys were in a locked box, they have no further responsibility for the thief.I only carry liability insurance on the car, so my provider has no fight in the matter. What course of action can I take?

Asked on August 5, 2016 under Business Law, Ohio

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

They are liable only if they were negligent, or unreasonably careless, in how they secured the keys or what they did after they discovered the keys were missing, and that negligence contributed to the theft of your car. (They are not liable for the criminal acts of another, that is, but only for what they did or did not do.)
If the keys were in a locked box, they probably adequately (reasonably) secured them in the first place. Therefore, if they are liable will likely turn on whether:
1) They did in fact notice the theft of the keys before your car was stolen, or reasonably should have noticed it (i.e. there was obviously a break in, so they should have checked to see what was missing); and
2) Once knowing of the theft or likely theft, they did nothing to prevent someone from coming back and stealing cars (e.g. they could have changed external locks; put a guard on; etc.).
To provide examples:
Say that someone broke in at 10am on a work day or just before the work day started, obviously ransacked the place, left the box moved, etc. They should have noticed the theft, and noticing the loss of the keys, should have taken steps to secure the building and cars. In this case, they should be liable.
But if the theft of the keys occured when the shop was closed, or even if done while it was open, was done so subtly there was no reasonably evidence sign of it, so that they had no reason to suspect the keys were stolen. In that case, they probably did nothing wrong or careless and would most likely not be liable.


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