Can You Sue a 4-Year-Old for Negligence?

Apparently you can, according to a New York judge:

The suit that Justice Wooten allowed to proceed claims that in April 2009, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, who were both 4, were racing their bicycles, under the supervision of their mothers, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn, on the sidewalk of a building on East 52nd Street.

At some point in the race, they struck an 87-year-old woman named Claire Menagh, who was walking in front of the building and, according to the complaint, was “seriously and severely injured,” suffering a hip fracture that required surgery. She died three weeks later.

Her estate sued the children and their mothers, claiming they had acted negligently during the accident. [...]

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.


What do you think? Should we be able to sue little kids for negligence?

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Wow... While I don't advocate frivilous lawsuits, I'm stunned by the number of respondents here who dismissively write off the victim as "she was 87", "old" and "frail" and go so far as to suggest that she should not have been allowed to walk on the sidewalk at all, let alone unsupervised. Are we serious? A sidewalk is for WALK-ing afterall, and I've seen some pretty spry 90 year olds. Perhaps it was just such a response from the children's families that prompted the lawsuit? [Or perhaps the "estate" just wasn't ready to say goodbye, and this is the way they have chosen to deal with the loss.]

Yes, kids will be kids, and parents should parent.
As a parent, I read "An infant under 4" to apply to the 3 and under set, which makes this a semantic difference between a toddler and a pre-schooler. I think the judge was therefore trying not to extend the line any further which is why he noted that the child in question was "almost 5" at the time as opposed to being "barely 4".

I, for one, say "Bravo" to the judge for not losing sight of who actually caused the accident-- the tricycle dragsters. By allowing them to be named as part of the suit, he's reemphasizing their participation. Yes, they are pre-schoolers, but at some point children need to learn that it's not okay to behave some ways and that their actions have consequences. As a parent, I wrestle with this regularly: spare their feelings or help them grow to be responsible, compassionate adults. There is going to be a line drawn somewhere.

If we blast the mothers for "not supervising" or the victim for being old and therefore "near death" to begin with, then we are ignoring a valuable "teachable moment" for the children which would make this incident (accident) an even greater tragedy. They may not comprehend now, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to teach them. It's not like they will suddenly become all knowing when they turn 18 if we don't address the issues at they come up along the way.

There are no do-overs in life and the deed cannot be undone. My sympathies go to the grieving family who have lost their mother/grandmother/wife/sister AND to the children and their families who will have to live with the guilt. I hope that they can all find peace... preferably out of court.
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It's sad when people start looking at sueing four and five yr olds for negligence when they don't even know what that means. Kids will be afraid to do anything for fear of what could happen to them gesh. Yes she got hurt but she was old and she could have easily been hurt just walking so now because they were having fun and racing and not paying attention to what was in front of them we will now sue them. Good God what will we gain by basically terrorizing kids cause that's what it is. It's sad now they will be traumatized even more they probably already were afterwards because they want to sue them gesh. wow!
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I'm amazed at all of you who think "the blame should be placed on the mothers." There is NO blame here. It was an ACCIDENT, but unfortunately our litigious society sees nothing but dollar signs and is constantly looking to place the "blame."

Accidents happen. Move along.
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