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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
de_Lafayette November 3, 2010, 5:43 AM

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Mel November 3, 2010, 9:50 AM

Maybe they should sue the estate of the 87 year old for getting in the way.

Michele November 3, 2010, 4:32 PM

We actually discussed this very thing in my law class today. Those of you who think the judge ruled incorrectly are wrong. A judge rules ONLY on law, not on fact. A JURY rules on fact, and they will decide if the 4 year old was negligent. The law allows for this suit based on the definition of negligence.

Please put yourself in the place of the old lady. She was walking down the sidewalk, was knocked down and incurred medical costs. She did not knock herself down; the children did. She should have to pay thousands of dollars (possibly tens of thousands of dollars) in medical bills because of something she did not cause?

Logic works both ways.

Phil November 3, 2010, 5:40 PM

@Michele.

Don’t bother with a logical informed argument. Appeal to paternalistic sensibilities is all that flies around here.

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Marjorie November 5, 2010, 3:31 AM

Speaking of judges who need to be removed, and we’re all talking “tort reform” here, aren’t we? Well, here’s our story: my mother was sexually assaulted in her nursing home. We moved her immediately, the nursing home people never even said they were sorry in any way. We sued for negligence and our judge, during a hearing, determined that because she had demencia she couldn’t remember it and was thus not harmed. She screamed every day since.

Judge Tom November 6, 2010, 11:37 AM

For more about the rights and responsibilities of children, teens and parents take a look at www.askthejudge.info. This is America’s only free web site for and about kids and the laws that affect them.
Thanks for lookin.
Respectfully, Judge Tom.

Justice4all November 7, 2010, 9:13 AM

Of course her mother/parents should be sued. Unfortunately, the supervising mother wasn’t too good at supervising. She should not have let her child race any bike, much less a training bike down the sidewalk. Sidewalks are for walking. She should have taken her to the park where she cold freely play. Who’s gonna pay for the woman’s injurie? Oh, I’m sorry is supposed to suffice because they were children? I don’t think so. If it were my mother, I don’t care how hold the person, I would sue. Actions have consequences and unfortunately those actions came from children.

SP November 7, 2010, 9:44 AM

Relax everybody! :|

brett November 7, 2010, 9:46 AM

To Deb, if you read the article it says she died of unrelated causes. You are probably not a parent. You cannot be at a child’s side every second of the day.Are you suppose to run up and down the sidewalk or street and clear all pedestrians in their way, NO! Yes, there are some people that do not disipline their children enough, but this was clearly an accident and to sue a four year old is ridiculous.

Mommabear November 7, 2010, 10:43 AM

NO, NO, NO……this country is so darned sue happy, this is beyond belief. This was a 4 year old child - not a 14 year old. At 4 years old I ran out into a busy street in Chicago & thank God the car I ran in front of stopped in time. It has stayed with me all my life, I can still see the woman’s face behind the wheel. Did I use judgment skills to think before I did that? Yes, the judgment of a 4 year old child who was not capable of KNOWING the true dangers of my actions! I thought I could run faster than the car. Silly me. Perhaps the 4 year old did not have the physical strength to stop in time to avoid running into the old woman - perhaps the old woman walked into the path of the child - accidents happen, people are sad - but this is certainly not a situation that calls for a lawsuit against this child’s parents!

Borsia November 7, 2010, 1:45 PM

Suing a 4 year old is outrageous there is no way that a child of that age can comprehend the possible ramifications of his actions.
However; the mothers are fully culpable for this accident and should be held liable.
My fear is that because the child is being sued the jury will toss the case. The mothers need to pay for their actions. This poor old woman was severely injured by what they did.

Shocked at the Stupidity! November 7, 2010, 7:20 PM

Um, if the elderly woman was hit 3 months prior to her later death why are they making this an issue now?
2nd the parents are the responsible party, as the article states, the parents of the children on these tidy bikes were overseeing their play, which several things could be negative here with this picture.
I have to stop and ponder over this type of decision , action all corners of it and ask… WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE THESE DAYS??? This whole world is just plain going MAD over these types of CRY WOLF garbage!, Yes I sympathize with the condition that it caused the woman when she fell, but 3 months later they decide to sue? Hell fire don’t come around me! I don’t warm up to people with idiocy and ignorance too well. In fact it makes those involved laughable to even THINK this is logical. Interrogate the parents not the kids what the SAM hell would they know, let me ask you Einstein’s this…. HOW FREAKING INTELLIGENT WERE YOU AT THE AGE of 4????? bet you cant think back that far now can ya!
Didn’t think so. This is a prime case of Power ABUSE at its finest! GET A DAMN GRIP! That judge should be barred!

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Jen November 16, 2010, 10:53 AM

@Phil: I agree with you completely. You’re also right about people attacking the lady by calling her names. Don’t worry about it, all these people are doing, basically, is showing their prejudice. It’s not okay to be racist on momlogic, but ageism (along with sexism - they HATE men) is apparently acceptable. I also note that KS has been calling you names while accusing you of doing precisely that to others. She is wrong, of course. I hope you continue to have confidence in yourself. Some of us can understand the reasoning behind your posts and many of us feel that it is not okay for a child to race her bike into another human being.

To everyone else, the vulnerable in our society need to be taken care of, not sneered at for being less able than ourselves. One day, all the people on this comments section who feel that, somehow, the old lady deserved all that pain that came to her the day the child rammed into her with her bike, will be old. I hope that when that happens, your children show the same courtesy towards you as you have shown to this old lady and her family.

Despite our differences, I think we can all agree that the child involved has learnt her lesson. She has learnt that it is NEVER okay to hurt a human being, still less okay to use a weapon against them. I am also sure that you are now all watching your children when you take them outside. If, like Brett, you think they aren’t your responsibility, well, all that means is that one day you too will be facing this kind of lawsuit.

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