4-Year-Old Able To Be Sued, NY Judge Rules
November 15, 2010
Why wouldn’t a 4 year old be able to be sued?
This is an interesting development in the law–at least in New York. I think what here is left unsaid is that by attempting to hold the 4-year-old unaccountable for the damages, the insurance company was hoping not to have to pay for a possible wrongful death claim.
A “bright line” has been drawn for future negligence cases by New York State Supreme Court Justice Paul Wooten, who ruled this week that 4-year-olds approaching their fifth birthday are not “presumed incapable of negligence,” The New York Times reports.
Justice Wooten was referring in this case to Juliet Breitman, who had been racing her training-wheel-laden bike against fellow toddler Jacob Kohn on East 52nd Street in Manhattan two years ago when they struck 87-year-old Claire Menagh. The elderly woman suffered a hip fracture and died three weeks later.
Ms. Menaghs estate sued the children and their parents, who had been supervising the kids at the time of the accident, claiming negligence on everyones behalf. Breitman and her mothers lawyer, James P. Tyrie, sought to dismiss the suit against the toddler by arguing 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, the Times reports. Kohn and his mother did not seek to dismiss the suit.
Tyrie argued that the precedent had been set by previous courts who have held that “an infant under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence.”
Justice Wooten, however, ultimately disagreed with Tyries arguments, noting that Breitman was three months shy of her fifth birthday at the time of the accident. The Gothamist reports that Justice Wootens ruling stated: “A parents presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across the street. A reasonably prudent child, whom we may presume has been told repeatedly by the age of four to look both ways before crossing a street, knows that running across a street is dangerous even if there is a parent nearby.” And furthermore, the defense failed to prove any “lack of intelligence or maturity” or anything to “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.”