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Judge Rules 4-Year-Old CAN Be Sued for Negligence!

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Better keep a close eye on your kids when they're learning how to ride a bike! Last week, a Manhattan judge ruled that a 4-year-old could actually be sued for negligence for colliding with an elderly woman!

Judge Rules 4-Year Old CAN Be Sued For Negligence!

The New York Times told a true tale of how two 4-year-olds, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, had been riding their bikes up and down a Manhattan sidewalk (with their parents looking on) when they collided with Claire Menagh, an 87-year-old woman.

Sadly, the woman broke her hip, needed surgery and died three months later of unrelated causes. But her estate saw fit to sue the 4-year-olds and their moms, citing negligence!

Kohn's parents didn't seek to dismiss the case, but Breitman's did. When the motion to dismiss was presented, however, Judge Paul Wooten of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan rejected it because of Juliet's age: She was nearly 5 when Ms. Menagh was struck, and was thus old enough to be sued, Wooten said.

What? Four is old enough to be SUED?

The young Miss Breitman's attorney argued that Juliet was too young to be liable for negligence because she wasn't "engaged in an adult activity" but was merely "riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother."

But the judge replied that although the attorney "correctly notes that infants under the age of 4 are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence," Breitman was older than 4 when the accident occurred -- and for infants above the age of 4, "there is no bright-line rule."

The judge wrote: "A parent's presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior, such as running across a street." He added that any "reasonably prudent child" should know that dashing out into traffic without looking is dangerous, with or without a parent there. The crucial factor is whether the parent encourages the risky behavior; if so, the child should not be held accountable."

The judge also determined that Juliet's mom was only "supervising," and that there wasn't any indication 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."

Hmph. Should kids be allowed to run into old people? Heck, no! But should a 4-year-old be held responsible in court? What do you guys think? Is this litigious insanity? Can a 4-year-old really be considered negligent?

next: Pickle Pregnancy Shoot: Cute or Crass?
154 comments so far | Post a comment now
Tracy November 2, 2010, 9:01 AM

In so much as a parent should watch the kids….the kids should also watch the parents. Where was the supervision for this elder lady? If I was being sued I believe a counter suit for negligence for elder abuse would be in order. This elder lady’s kids should have recognized their moms unability to reason…shown by not re-routing her self out of harms way. Also her abilty to re-act to an issue…shown by her not being able to re-move herself from harm quickly….I mean lets face it, how fast can a 4 year old, learning to ride a bike, go? The combination of not reasoning and re-acting could be harmful on many different levels…purse snacher,fire,rolling shopping cart,ice falling from an over hang…the list goes on. KIDS TAKE CARE OF YOUT PARENTS…you have a choice they didnt! my humble opinion

Eileen November 2, 2010, 9:04 AM

She suffered a broken hip due to the accident; that is what insurance is for. These parents should have homeowners or renters insurance; a childs act is covered under their policy; should their insurance want to fight it it will be on their dime. I had a nut neighbor once sue me for “lack of enjoyment of their home”; the cause? they believed my 12 year old had issued death threats to their child; the death threats were in the form of chalk drawings my kids had made in MY driveway; one outlined another…that was supposedly a corpse hense a threat. My homeowners insurance covered it.

Debs November 2, 2010, 9:10 AM

Matt, I think you’re the one who needs to learn to read. Let me help you:

“No, but I think her parents can.”

Re-read the final question in the article, and then the above sentence. I think you’ll realise I didn’t say anything about the girl. My concern is parents who can’t teach their children good behaviour.

Dave November 2, 2010, 9:20 AM

Let’s allow the 4 year olds to vote if they can be held accountable like this.

We could even see Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Big Bird, Grover, and the rest running this assylum!

starguy November 2, 2010, 10:03 AM

Someday, I hope to become a judge, so I can be just like Hizzoner Paul Wooten.

But, first, I have to save up for a lobotomy, because that seems to be a requirement for being a judge in the state of NY.

Phil November 2, 2010, 10:05 AM

@Tim; Curious where did you study tort law or civil procedure?

Do you possess any critical reasoning skills. In your scenario only those that have the financial means would be able to bring a lawsuit, not the victims who often times are faced with massive medical bills and/or are faced to miss work time. You are basically insuring that large insurance companies employing high powered attornies are the only ones with access to the justice system.

The last part of your statement underscores your failure to understand our justice system. Judges determine issues of law such as what is frivolous and whether a child can be sued for negligence. It is up to the jury to decide issues of fact, such as whether or a not a child was negligent.

Jodie November 2, 2010, 10:20 AM

What are they going to do? Make the child go to work to pay for the old bats health bills?

Anonymous November 2, 2010, 10:22 AM

The whole is is idiotic. They said she died of unrelated causes so that should have nothing to do with the case. Im guessing she had health insurance too if she had an “estate”. What would be the point in sewing this little girl.

Borzoidog November 2, 2010, 10:27 AM

The legal system in the USA is in a deplorible state. Over the years in health care and renovating historic buildings, my family and colleagues have invented and built many items to make work easier and safer. Sadly, the frightening legal situation has kept us from marketing any of these creations due to the danger of product liability exposure.

Mystri November 2, 2010, 10:38 AM

I understand that children at this age need to know right from wrong. Some parents do actually discipline their childreren, but that doesn’t mean that the child won’t ever do wrong. My son knows right from wrong, but he will still test his limits and when he does I tell him what he has done wrong. It isn’t like the children were out riding their bikes alone.

nick November 2, 2010, 10:45 AM

why hasnt this judge been removed from the bench and bared from ever practicing law again !!!!!!!he is clearly not able to make intelligent decicions.sorry for the spelling errors but i get alittle fired up when i read this kind of stupidity !!!!

E Haskell November 2, 2010, 10:50 AM

Juvenile law stemming from Enlgish common law establishes the “rule of responsibility of infants” which sets the ages under seven as “guiltless” Thus no criminal charges may be filed.

A rule of thumb for civil charges such as suits and claims are based on presumption that an accused person could make a reasonable decision as an adult concerning contracts, obligations, or regulated privileges. “i.e driving, becoming employed’ or even obtaining a legal state I.D.

In New York “Non-driver ID cards are available to any person, regardless of age, who can provide acceptable proof of name and age. Parental consent is required for applicants under 16 years old.” (Pulled from DMV web site)

When we look at NY law regarding work under no circumstance can a child under 12 be employed. (Hand harvesting of berries and working the farm etc. Pulled from NY Dept of Labor site)

In summary we have historically recognized common law suggesting; a child is “guiltless” under 7; State laws which suggest you must be 16 to establish your own identity; and, a person may not be employed until 12 in any circumstance.

Judge Wooten should retract the ruling as he is too far out of line in attempting to establish this precedent.

Linda November 2, 2010, 11:01 AM

Last time I checked the law books I understood it is illegal to ride bicycles on the sidewalk, at least that is the way I understand the law in my state. I am not quite 87 yet but if a kid on a bicycle is racing and not looking where they are going I don’t know if I could move fast enough to get out of the way. Besides the kids were probably close enough to be almost side by side which doesn’t leave much space for you to jump into. Now as to old people living alone, where do you want an old person to live? A nursing home where people just wait to die? How many children have the room to take their elderly parents in to live with them? Personally I want to go the way my mother did, she lived in her home until the day she passed at 91, as did her mother. Personally while I love my children to pieces, I don’t want to live with them and while they love me I am sure they wouldn’t want me living with them 24 7.

Anyway it is my belief that kids do not need to be racing bicycles on sidewalks at any time. What were the parents doing while the kids raced? Gossiping? I am sure they were outside but how much attention were they giving the kids. The world is not run by kids.

speechless! November 2, 2010, 11:15 AM


Sunny November 2, 2010, 11:19 AM

This is so sad to hear. Why are we now trying to pick on children, that are just starting to learn by there mistakes. What are we comeing to are we so hungry for money, that we don’t care about how to get it. We start to hurt each other fight one another and we don’t even care who we do it to. Even if this elderly Lady was hurt and passed away, she lived a long life and and we hope that it was all happy and good for her. We have to come to see that in this world God never said to use he would let use live forever, maybe with him yes, but not on earth. He gives to use and he can also take from use, but to punish a new child on Earth who has just started to live and learn this is childless,unfair and ridiculous.

Meghann November 2, 2010, 11:20 AM

I think they’ll throw this out. If she died of unrelated causes, then there’s no case. The judge is a mental case who probably wants all babies aborted anyway.

Lynnette November 2, 2010, 11:21 AM

I think it is insane they were only 4 come on they are just tryin to get money an the judge is tryin to get attention this is ridilous.

Mike November 2, 2010, 11:23 AM

This is actually very simple. The issue before the judge is whether there’s anything in the applicable body of law that precludes a four-year old from being sued for negligence. I’m not going to double-check his research, but apparently there isn’t. If you think that four-year olds should be immune to negligence suits, that’s fine, but it’s up to the legislature to make that the law. If you think that this particular four-year old should not be held liable for negligence, also fine, but that’s for the jury to decide, not the judge.

Mary November 2, 2010, 11:36 AM

Maybe the tricycle manufacturer should also be sued for not having brakes on their tricycles.

Phil November 2, 2010, 1:06 PM

@E Haskell you needn’t look at english common law for criminal culpibility, the purpose of which is at least in part to punish the wrongdoer, when there is mandatory authority coming from New York State Common Law for civil liability, the purpose of which is to make the victim whole. See Camardo v. New York S. Rys., 247 N.Y. 111 (N.Y. 1928) (Holding that a child age of 4 years 10 months is capable of contributory negligence (a total bar to recovery) after the kids ran in front of a streetcar).

Thus you should retract your comment as being out of line with accuracy.

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