Some students will remember Griffith v Valley of the Sun Recovery, 126 Ariz. 227 (1980), the case in which the plaintiff was accidentally shot during a botched, chaotic automobile repossession. Valley of the Sun’s employee, Gorney, attempted to repossess a car in the midde of the night after previous attempts ended in violent confrontations and failure. The trial court granted the repo company’s motion for summary judgment, Griffith appealed, and the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed:
Gorney’s actions in setting off the car alarm around 4:00 a. m., unscrewing the spotlight and then hiding while police investigated what appeared to be a burglary, created an explosive atmosphere in the immediate neighborhood. His persistence in again setting off the burglar alarm and his attempts to remove the car amid the created confusion set the stage for the resulting injury. Since this is a case in which reasonable minds could differ and in which the “foreseeability of harm varies as a result of factual distinctions”, we hold that a jury question was presented as to whether a reasonable man could have foreseen that his actions were creating a confrontation where someone could be injured.
I thought of Griffith when a friend sent me this article from the Associated Press: Violence between repo men, car owners on the rise. The article reports that automobile respossessions are expected to increase by 5% this year after 2007 and 2008 increases of 9% and 12%, respectively. Last year there were 1.67 million automobile repossession, or 1.67 million opportunities for often-untrained repo men to encounter frustrated and angry car owners. The article reports on a fatal shooting of a car owner in Alabama, “a state considered a Wild West territory even by the standards of an industry that’s largely unregulated nationally.” There have been three repossession-related shootings in Alabama since last summer, two fatal. All took place in the middle of the night. The car owners heard noises, grabbed their guns to confront suspected car thieves/troublemakers (who else makes pokes around your car at 3:00 AM?), and then someone got shot.
Economic distress, frustration, repo men, firearms, the dark of the night–it’s a deadly mix.