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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?

For more baby and kid-related stuff, don't miss our blog NeatoBambino!

Maybe they should counter sue for the old woman being negligent and not taking a bus to where she was going if she was in such a fragile state. This whole thing is just stupid.
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Yeah. I'm sure those 4 year olds have the money to pay that one off. Let's ruin their little lives before they even get a start.

What about suing the MOTHERS who should have been paying better attention to their children?

And this Justice...the kid is FOUR. Not "almost five". Way to bend the law to make headlines.
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IDK. I have a daughter that is barely three and she knows better than to hit people with her bike. Ultimately it is the parents that will pay anway..
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Damned right four year olds are negligent. They're childish, too. That's why we don't let them live alone and require them to have adult supervision.

The problem here seems to be with the quality of the adult supervision, and that's not the children's fault.

What were the parents thinking, letting them ride their bicycles fast on the sidewalk with an octogenarian neighbor around?
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If only the 87 year old woman had drunk more milk. If only...

WTF? Why not sue the city for failure to post a "No bicycle racing on sidewalks" sign? How about God- He made all that pesky gravity! She was 87 people, not 37- her life expectancy wasn't going to rocket upward any time soon. What ever happed to "accidents happen"?

I'm just cynical enough to belive the main reason her estate sued was because she left them nothing.
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"She died three months later of unrelated causes."

That bit needs to be fixed, the times reported it wrong and has since fixed it. NBC, neatorama and consumerist need to fix their articles... and maybe fact check just a bit more.
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Sure, sue them. It's just another judgement against the parents for their lack of supervision and otherwise bad parenting. I'd like to think most children are taught to respect others and not run-down little old ladies.

It's worth noting that there is a difference between suing someone, and winning that lawsuit. If the parent(s) weren't remiss, and the kids weren't so reckless as to fit the definition of "reckless or negligent disregard for human life", they probably won't be on the hook for damage.

I think it's also a bit inconsiderate to accuse the old lady's family of being motivated by greed. If some hooligan tots ran-down my parents on a sidewalk and cut their lives short, I'd want to hold someone accountable. Since you can never be certain if a stranger's apology means they feel remorse, having a court part them with their money is certainly a good way to make sure they feel some loss and some remorse. It's not so much a matter of putting a price on a life, it's about establishing that someone is accountable, and the magnitude of that accountability.
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Also, it's hard to just say the elderly lady's death just a few months later is "unrelated". While she may not have died of those injuries or a direct complication of them, the stress related to such a traumatic injury certainly can set a cascade of health problems into motion.
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Anyone who thinks this is a sign of bad parenting hasn't really been around a 4 year old lately. The best parenting in the world won't keep the average four year old from occassionally doing something you tell them not to do.

And no, it's not inconsiderate to think the lawsuit is motivated by greed. Really, you think these moms need to pay through the nose in order to feel remorse? You think a 4 year old is going to grow up with no issues over having accidentally maybe contributed to somebody's death?

C'mon, the only time you sue when an 87 year old lady died after a freak accident is when you see dollar signs. Greed.
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This is just plain ridiculous and unbelievable, If I were on ANY other website I'd just assume it was an Onion article. Negligence? Even on the parent's part? It's a FOUR YEAR OLD! Four year olds have accidents, even when they are listening to their parents. What sick, sad people to sue a child.
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Scott M. You are an idiot. It is called an unfortunate accident. She was 87 and lived a long life. I am 82 and I have lived a wonderful life. I doubt the two children planned this. It is an accident and unfortunate, like lightening, or a fall down the stairs. It happens , and it is sad. The people suing the children have mental problems. If the two kids ran her down every day we are talking a different story. Money Money Money. This the story and you know. Stop acting like an idiot and spewing obvious ridiculous points of view when you know the real truth, IT WAS AN UNFORTUNATE ACCIDENT, and A NON SUABLE EVENT. End of story
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@Dolly: Calling people an idiot is a great way to establish a counter argument.

An accident, or an unfortunate accident or not, you will still be held liable.

The issue here is whether or not the child is old enough to possess the ability to do the right thing. The case is for the damage incurred by the negligence of the child, not the damage caused by the accident.

If the child of that age is not able to comprehend the situation and act accordingly, then there is no case.

If the child is able to comprehend the situation and doesn't call for help, then it I have no idea where the liability is; to the parents (for not teaching them) or the child.
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Scott M.: Hooligan tot? Seriously? You're a fool or a non-parent. They were 4. Do you know how a 4 year old behaves? They don't even know what negligence means.

Little kids run amok. It's what they do and accidents happen. Nobody has ever been 100% effective in watching every moment of every day. It's why kids fall, get bumps and bruises, get in "mine" fights with other little kids.

This has got to be the most disgusting display of greed I have ever read. Really. I mean that.

And that the likes of people like you agree with it disgusts me even more and makes me frankly terrified for the future of society.
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I totally agree with those against the decision of the justice.

It seems to be a trend within the American legal system to hold younger and younger children liable for acts of negligence.

I don't know all of the facts of the case, but greed certainly seems to be the motivation behind a lawsuit such as this.

In my opinion, and also I think in the opinion of many neurobiologists, medical professionals, child psycholgists, and others that have a great amount of knowledge about developmental biology and experience working with young children, a child of four is neurologically very undeveloped in all respects from motor control to cognitive and reasoning capabilities. Therefore, a child of this age is incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions, or foreseeing a negative outcome of a given action. On average, they simply do not possess the ability to do so.

Suing the parents for negligence- fine, at least that's fair. The parents have fully developed brains, and years of exprience to draw from. A child of four has little if any understanding of how the world works. Four year-old children do things like put on capes and jump off of buildings because they think that they can fly.

There is another side to this as well- carelessness on the part of the 87 year old woman. The 87 year old woman was an adult of presumably sound mind who made a conscious decision in her frail condition to take a major risk and go out walking on a busy sidewalk in New York city. The world is not a safe place and accidents are commonplace. A person of 87 years should be well aware of this, and should not have been traveling outside of her home unassisted and while in a compromised state.

I think that people don't realize that setting a legal precedent for holding children of this age liable opens the door to all manner of lawsuits brought by greedy, unscrupulous individuals and the law firms that represent them. It also further backs up a legal system that is already stopped up with frivolous law suits such as these.

Shame on the justice for allowing this suit to proceed. He's done all parties involved and his society a great disservice.
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This sounds like my torts final exam...The insurance industry loves little kids.

It depends. The standard rule is 7 years old. Although exceptions can be made - there was a case in Utah where a 5 year old pulled a chair out from underneath his aunt when she was about to sit and she broke a hip. The eggshell skull rule suggests you take your victim as you find them, old or not. That said, the little old lady was negligent as well.

It all comes back to the judge. Just appeal to the circuit court and ask for your fees to be paid.

And according to the article, the woman died 3 months later from unrelated causes. Her heirs are greedy.
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And that's what I love so much about this country, you can sue just everybody and his mom. Why use common sense when we can sue somebody, right? After all, those kids should have stayed inside and played with their Playstation or so instead of bicycling around!
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I would completely agree with wteaocb that the justice who allowed this to happen has done everyone a great disservice.

When I read what Scott M. said I was at a loss as to someone feels this is okay and that greed wasn't involved. Especially after the sentence "Since you can never be certain if a stranger's apology means they feel remorse, having a court part them with their money is certainly a good way to make sure they feel some loss and some remorse."
How can anyone say such a thing. Really? Take a good look at what that says. Nobody can ever be certain of how anyone is ever feeling about anything. It isn't any one's place to make sure somebody feels remorse or loss. In this case it sounds like all you want is revenge. It's also a good example of why rampant frivolous lawsuits are such commonplace. I don't mean to be sappy but what ever happened to the concept of forgiveness. It is a terrible accident from the sound of it and I'm sure people are hurt but that doesn't mean you should always pass that hurt on to others. Its rough, but even when people are justified to sue another it shouldn't be taken lightly. This isn't to say that it isn't the best thing to do sometimes (this seems far from it). Perhaps sometimes ones humanity is more important than monetary compensation.

I know this isn't something light. Somebody lost their life perhaps from this event, but she was 87 years old and these sorts of accidents happen all the time (especially with 4 year olds involved). A parent can only do so much.
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How about the parents counter suing the 'estate' for letting a 87 year old, walk in the side walk without supervision ?? Isn't that negligence as well ?
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I didn't think you could sue minors at all. I always thought it was the guardians you'd have to sue. They're in their rights to sue, but it's sad.

And ScottM, how dare you state your opinion reasonably and coherently? Don't you realize that children are completely and utterly uncontrollable, and instead of trying to curb children's behaviour, we should just accept it and get out of their way?
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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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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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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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