NPR logo Four Is Old Enough To Know Better. And People Can Sue You, Judge Rules.


Four Is Old Enough To Know Better. And People Can Sue You, Judge Rules.

Careful on that bike, kid, old enough to ride a bike, old enough to get sued. istockphoto hide caption

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In April of 2009 then 4-year-olds Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn were racing their bikes down a Manhattan sidewalk. Their mothers were there. A normal, typical 4-year-old thing to do. Then they ran into 87-year-old Claire Menagh. She was injured, badly, fracturing her hip. Tragically, three weeks later she died.

Now a New York judge has ruled that those 4-year-olds are legally liable for negligence. Menagh's estate is suing the two children and their mothers. Breitman's lawyer, James P. Tyrie, argued that four is too young to be liable, pointing out that courts have held in the past that children under 4 are "incapable of negligence." From the NYT.

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.

Mr. Tyrie “correctly notes that infants under the age of 4 are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence,” Justice Wooten wrote in his decision, referring to the 1928 case. “Juliet Breitman, however, was over the age of 4 at the time of the subject incident. For infants above the age of 4, there is no bright-line rule.”

Well, I'm glad someone made that clear. Like I've been telling my daughter, live it up now kid, at 4, I'm washing my hands.