Get Your Lawyers, Toddlers! 4-Year-Olds Can Still Be Sued

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Four-year-olds like this one are now fair game for negligence suits

Jon Anderson

The emotional distress cases alone should get NewsFeed a cool $3 million.

A New York State Supreme Court judge ruled this week that four-year-olds can be sued for negligence, citing years of legal precedent.

The case arose from a bike race in April 2009 between toddlers Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn. Under the supervision of their parents, Breitman and Kohn (both four at the time) were riding bicycles with training wheels down a Mahattan sidewalk, when they crashed into 87-year-old Claire Menagh. Menagh suffered a broken hip, and died of unrelated causes three months later. Her estate sued Brightman, Kohn and their parents for negligence.

The parents of the children sought to dismiss the case againt Juliet and Jacob, arguing that the pair were too young to be charged with negligence. Legal precedent had stated that children under four — being small, helpless little things with brains not yet fully-developed — were too young to be held liable for negligence. Justice Paul Whooten maintained this precedent, but ruled that because both children had already turned four, they were above the legal dividing line and thus could have the training-pants sued off of them.

Whooten also denied a motion to dismiss the negligence charges against the four-year-olds on the basis that they were under adult supervision when the crash occurred. “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 wrote.

The judge did allow that if a parent was found to be encouraging a child in dangerous or negligent activity the child should not be held liable, an allowance he maintained was not the case in the bike race. (He also protested the use of the term “supervising,” arguing that was too vague to be used in a legal context.) He finished by railing against the four-year-old Breitman’s decision-making:

“[There is no evidence of a] lack of intelligence or maturity [or anything that would] 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.”

Hear that sound behind you, kids? It’s the sound of you taking responsibility for your actions, and it’s going to catch up to you all very soon. (via The New York Times)