Could An Online Classified Service Be Liable for the Wrongful Death of Tim Bosma?

05/24/2013 05:30 EDT | Updated 07/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Clarification: The original blog post did not explicitly explain that it was addressing a hypothetical question of liability and was not making any conclusions about how Tim Bosma's killer(s) connected with him. This has been clarified below. We regret any confusion that may possibly have been caused.

Could a company like Kijiji be found liable for the wrongful death of Tim Bosma if it were proven that his murderers connected with him through the service?

The question is a hypothetical one: We do not know how Mr. Bosma's killer(s) found him, and Kijiji says the ad Mr. Bosma placed with it contained no personal contact information and garnered no replies. But it is still a relevant question as enormous numbers of people, previously unknown to each other, now meet online to trade goods, services or find a new boyfriend or girlfriend.

The question revolves around the concept of negligence. Basically the law imposes liability if someone was careless in a situation where they ought to have known their carelessness could cause harm and harm occurred. Now that's a mouthful of a sentence but it breaks down easily enough.

In a case like Bosma's the questions would be as follows:

Did the web trading site know its site could put someone in harm's way? The answer there seems a pretty clear yes. Are the site's users people who the site ought to know could be affected by it being careless? Again a pretty clear yes. Were Tim Bosma and his family harmed? Again a yes.

But here things become a bit more tricky. Was the site careless and if so did that carelessness cause Mr. Bosma's harm?

In Kijiji's case, the site offers a series of safety tips. One provides:

"When buying or selling, you should meet in-person to see the product and exchange funds. Meet in a public place with many people around, such as a coffee shop. "

Is this sort of warning enough? Kijiji does not say they screen anyone, and the service is free for most users. In a way, Kijiji and sites like it are merely bulletin boards, similar to those used in rural grocers for a place to buy and sell. Absent some special cause to be alarmed, Kijiji and any other similar sites Mr. Bosma may have used to try to sell his truck likely would be found to have acted reasonably enough even if they were found to have played a role in connecting Mr. Bosma with his killer(s).