The three-judge panel ordered a trial in the case.
The decision means that dealerships 'should take the safeguards necessary to prevent cars from being stolen, and that's what happened here,' said Columbus lawyer Steven Zeehandelar, who represents Proliance Insurance Co.
In June 1999, Kevin Gallagher took his 1998 Acura to Lindsay Acura in Columbus for servicing, the suit contends. He parked on the lot, put his keys in an envelope and dropped the envelope through the 'early bird' slot in the garage door.
The car was stolen, allegedly because the thief was able to retrieve the keys through a one-inch gap at the bottom of that door.
Gallagher's insurer, Proliance, paid more than $7,100 for damage to the car and for a replacement rental.
It then sued Lindsay Acura in Franklin County Municipal Court for breach of the dealership's bailment obligation to return the car undamaged.
Proliance also obtained a default judgment against the thief, but it was never paid, Zeehandelar said.
Lindsay Acura denied any liability, arguing that there had been no prior thefts of vehicles left on its lot under its early bird procedure. Its service manager also testified in an affidavit that its security was equal to that of other new-car dealerships in the area.
The case was dismissed without trial, but the appeals court ruled that Proliance had offered enough evidence to suggest that the dealership's negligence had caused the theft.
Appeals Judge Peggy Bryant said, 'Proliance's argument is supported by the fact the envelope which contained Gallagher's keys was found inside the car when the car ultimately was recovered.'
Columbus lawyer Thomas Davis, who represents the dealership, said his client disputes the allegation of negligence.
'It was the garage door,' Davis said. 'This door was going up and down all day. We don't know if it had a one-inch gap at the time the car was stolen.'
You can send e-mail to at Freedma5@msu.edu