Last April, an 87-year-old Manhattan woman was hurt when two 4-year-old racing bicycles along a sidewalk hit her. Three months later, the woman died of unrelated causes. This month, a court said her estate could sue a preschooler.
Her estate sued the children and their mothers, claiming they had acted negligently during the accident. In a response, Juliet’s lawyer, James P. Tyrie, argued that the girl was not “engaged in an adult activity” at the time of the accident – “She was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother” – and was too young to be held liable for negligence.
In legal papers, Mr. Tyrie added, “Courts have held that an infant under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence.” (Rachel and Jacob Kohn did not seek to dismiss the case against them.)
But Justice Wooten declined to stretch that rule to children over 4. On Oct. 1, he rejected a motion to dismiss the case because of Juliet’s age, noting that she was three months shy of turning 5 when Ms. Menagh was struck, and thus old enough to be sued.
The WSJ Law Blog noted the plaintiff’s response:
The plaintiff countered that “the child at bar is almost a year older, nearing her fifth birthday” and cited the Court of Appeal’s ruling in Camardo v. New York State Rys., 247 N.Y. 111 (1928), which noted that “[n]o rule of law fixes an arbitrary age at which a particular degree of care may be expected.”
The judge largely bought the plaintiff’s argument: “There are no exhibits containing evidence as to the defendant-movant’s lack of intelligence or maturity, nor are there any other mitigating factors apparent in the record that would indicate that another child of similar age and capacity under the circumstances could not have reasonably appreciated the danger of riding a bicycle into an elderly woman,” wrote Judge Wooten.
What is the plaintiff going to do if it establishes that the 4 year olds were negligent? Bankrupt them? Garnishee their bicycles and sell them off if they don’t pay damages? I’m a remedies girl, so I tend to ask myself, “If you sue this person, will you get a remedy which is worthwhile?” Sue the parents for negligent supervision, by all means, but it seems to me that suing the kids personally is outrageous and ridiculous.
Kids these days.
- Can a 4-year-old be sued for negligence? U.S. judge says yes (thestar.com)
- NYT: Girl, 4, can be sued for negligence (msnbc.msn.com)
- You: 4-Year-Old Can Be Sued, Judge Rules in Bike Case (nytimes.com)
- “4 year old sued for negligence” and related posts (skepticlawyer.com.au)
- Four-year-old sued for bike accident (bbc.co.uk)