4-year-old Sued in Training Wheels Accident

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Two 4-year-olds were racing bicycles on a NYC sidewalk when they crashed into an 87-year-old woman, who was severely injured in the accident. In the suit brought against them, a Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice has decided that the children CAN be sued for negligence!

According to the New York Times, Justice Paul Wooten did not find that 4-year old Juliet Breitman is liable, but permitted a lawsuit brought against the girl, her friend Jacob Kohn, and their parents to move forward.

The law suit claims that 4-year-olds Juliet and Jacob were racing their bikes (with training wheels!) on a sidewalk under their mothers' supervision. At some point, they struck 87-year-old Claire Menagh, who was "seriously and severly injured" and required surgery for a hip fracture, according to the complaint. She died three weeks later and now her estate is suing the children and their mothers, claiming they acted negligently in the situation.

Juliet's lawyer argued that the girl was not "engaged in adult activity" at the time of the accident and was too young to be held liable for negligence, and added that "courts have held that an infant under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence." But Justice Wooten said that Juliet was over 4 (three months shy of 5, in fact) and thus old enough to be sued.

In his decision, Justice Wooten wrote that although Juliet's lawyer was correct that children under the age of 4 are "conclusively presumed incapable of negligence", Juliet was over 4 at the time of the incident, and for infants above this age, "there is no bright-line rule."

The Justice also disagreed with the girl's lawyer that she should not be held liable since her mother was present. He expressed that a parent's presence does not give a child permission to engage in riksy behavior, and that any "reasonably prudent child," who presumably has been told to look both ways before crossing a street, for example, should know that dashing out without looking is dangerous, with or without a parent there. The determining factor is whether or not the parent encourages the risky behavior; if so, the child should not be held accountable.

In this case, there was nothing to indicate that Juliet's mother played any vaguely defined role of supervisor. Justice Wooten concluded that there was no evidence of Juliet's "lack of intelligence or maturity" or anything to "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." 

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