Increased Vehicle Thefts During COVID-19

vehicle theft covid-19

If you thought the bad old days of Mean Streets-type street crime were over, think again. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has caused automobile vehicle thefts to spike 63 percent in New York City.

The trend is not limited to the Big Apple.

Metropolitan areas around the country, such as Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Austin, have seen increases as well, albeit not as high as New York’s.

COVID-19 has created a “perfect storm,” according to Austin Police Department Sgt. Chris Vetrano.

Out-of-school teenagers are trying their luck, out-of-work adults are more desperate, and since many people are driving less, they leave their vehicles unattended for long periods of time.

Furthermore, many thieves go on “car prowls,” opined Salt Lake City Police Detective Greg Wilking.

“It’s really 10 seconds,” he said. “They’re not spending a lot of time in your car. It’s a smash-and-grab-and-go.”

The news is not all bad. Baltimore police reported a 19 percent auto theft drop, largely thanks to aggressive campaigns reminding owners about anti-theft measures.

Keeping Your Car Safer

Many New Yorkers rely on sophisticated GPS trackers to keep their vehicles safe.

Dealers and vendors sing the praises of these gadgets.

Unfortunately, however, they might only enable police investigators to find the shell of a car that’s been chopped up for parts.

Typically, in terms of vehicle safety, it’s best to get back to basics. Nothing prevents all auto thefts, but some of these precautions help immensely:

  • Use an Audible Alarm: Loud and annoying car alarms are sometimes effective. However, 99 percent of car alarms are false alarms, so many people simply ignore them.
  • Lock Your Car and Take Your Keys: Many people leave their cars unlocked and vulnerable when they run a quick errand at the store, such as a curbside coronavirus pickup. 72 percent of recently-stolen cars in Austin had the keys nearby.
  • Park in a Well-Lit Place: Car thieves usually choose the path of least resistance, and lights increase the chances that someone will see them. So, they prefer cars parked in the shadows. Generally, landowners must provide well-lit parking areas for their customers. More on that below.
  • Use a Vehicle Immobilizer: Auto theft is a crime of opportunity. If thieves see wheel immobilizers, they might move on. These devices often deter kids, but they often do not even slow down experienced car thieves.

Driving less also reduces the risk of auto theft. Consider walking to the coffee shop down the street and ordering more consumer items online.

Auto Theft and Negligent Security

As mentioned, landowners have a duty of care to keep them safe while they are at the store. This duty includes providing adequate security.

The amount of security necessary varies according to the type of business, location of the business, and some other factors.

At Napoli Shkolnik, we typically partner with industry experts who help establish the standard of care.

Since vehicle theft is so common, owners must provide safe parking areas.

At a minimum, owners must light their parking lots well. Video surveillance is usually necessary as well.

As for live security, some owners only need to subscribe to a drive-by security service. Other owners must use on-site security guards. It all depends on the standard of care.

Negligent security comes up in other areas as well, mostly third-party assaults.

Landowners could be liable for these incidents as well.

Establishing Liability

Liability usually attaches if, in addition to a legal duty, the landowner knew about the negligent security issue and the incident was foreseeable.

Victim/plaintiffs can use direct or circumstantial evidence to establish knowledge.

In either case, they must establish knowledge by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Foreseeability works basically the same way.

Evidence of foreseeability includes prior similar incidents either at that location or in the surrounding area. Other factors affecting foreseeability include the time of day or night and the nature of the business.

It’s also important to determine the proper defendant. This aspect of a premises liability claim is often complex.

Shopping mall parking areas are a good example. Sometimes, the property management company is responsible for maintaining the parking lot.

Other times, individual stores are responsible for their own security measures.

Damages in an auto theft case normally include compensation for economic losses, such as property damage, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Simple precautions often keep parked vehicles safe, but these precautions are not always enough.

For a free consultation with an experienced attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shklonik, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.