Citing cases dating back as far as 1928, a judge has ruled that a young girl accused of running down an elderly woman while racing a bicycle with training wheels on a Manhattan sidewalk two years ago can be sued for negligence.I had no idea children as young as four could be sued for negligence. That parents could be sued for a child's negligence, I did realize--but not that the child herself could be.
The ruling by the judge, Justice Paul Wooten of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, did not find that the girl was liable, but merely permitted a lawsuit brought against her, another boy and their parents to move forward.
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 months later of unrelated causes.
Her estate sued the children and their mothers, claiming they had acted negligently during the accident. In a response, Juliet’s lawyer, James P. Tyrie, argued that the girl was not “engaged in an adult activity” at the time of the accident — “She was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother” — and was too young to be held liable for negligence.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.
I'm not entirely sure what to make of a situation like this. Is it proof of a crying need for more careful parenting and less of the new/old "free-range" approach that lets kids have a lot more latitude for going on ahead of their parents, roaming the neighborhood at fairly young ages, etc.? Or is it merely proof of our hysterically litigious society which seizes on a sad and tragic accident and tries to hold someone accountable, even if that someone was a four-year-old on a bike with training wheels?
What do you think?
UPDATE: Edited to add the NY Times' corrections to the story; the woman died three months, not three weeks, later; the Times now says her death was unrelated to the accident. This makes the idea of suing the little girl even worse, in my mind. (Thanks to reader L. for pointing out the corrections to the original story!)