High Court Rules that Driver of Stolen Car Owes Duty of Care

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Western Australia regarding the duty of care between joint participants in an illegal enterprise: the use of a stolen car.

The Court held that whether the prosecution of a joint illegal enterprise negates the existence of a duty of care between participants depends on the statutory purposes of the section creating the offence. The Court held that the statutory purposes of s 371A of the Criminal Code (Qld) are not consistent with a finding of duty of care between those who joined in committing the crime.

According to the Court, the purposes of s 371A encompass not only the protection of property rights, but also road safety and the prevention of dangerous driving. In the circumstances of the case, however, a majority of the Court held that the plaintiff withdrew from the joint illegal enterprise when she asked to be let out of the car, and that there were no reasonable steps then available to her to prevent the further commission of the offence. Accordingly, she was owed a duty of care by the defendant when the car struck the pole, and could recover damages for her injuries.

The Court allowed the appeal, and set aside the order of the Court of Appeal, ordering that the appeal to that Court be dismissed.


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