US court rules four-year-old cyclist can be sued after colliding with pedestrian

87-year-old woman died three weeks after fracturing hip in accident

by Simon_MacMichael   October 29, 2010  

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A judge in New York has ruled that a lawsuit can be brought against a girl who was aged just four years when she was involved in a collision while riding her bike with an elderly woman who needed surgery after suffering a fractured hip in the accident and died three weeks later.

Justice Paul Wooten of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, who cited precedents from as far back as 1928 in support of his decision, made no finding in terms of liability.

However, the case means that the estate of the dead woman is now free to bring an action for damages against the girl, now aged six, a boy who was also riding his bike, and both children’s parents, according to The New York Times, citing a report in The New York Law Journal.

The incident took place in April 2009 when Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, both aged four, were apparently racing each other on their bikes on the pavement outside a building on East 52nd Street, while being supervised by their mothers.

The pair were involved in a collision with 87-year-old Claire Menagh, whose estate alleges was “seriously and severely injured” in the accident. The connection, if any, between Ms Menagh’s fractured hip and her subsequent death was not reported.

Ms Menagh’s estate is suing the two children and their mothers, whom they say acted negligently. James P. Tyrie, representing Juliet, said she was not “engaged in an adult activity” when the accident took place, saying “she was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother,” and that she was too young to be held liable for negligence.

Mr Tyrie continued: “Courts have held that an infant under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence.”

However, Justice Wooten refused to apply that presumption to children aged over four, denying an application that the case be dismissed on grounds of Juliet’s age at the time of the accident, saying that she was only three months away from her fifth birthday when it happened and could therefore be sued.

In his decision, Justice Wooten wrote: that Mr Tyrie “correctly notes that infants under the age of 4 are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence,” adding, “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.”

The judge also disagreed with an argument by Mr. Tyrie that Juliet should not be held liable due to the presence of her mother, saying: “A parent’s presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across a street.”

Citing the example of a “reasonably prudent child” who would know not to run out into the street, whether or not their parent was present, he said that the important point was whether or not the parent actually encouraged the child’s behaviour, and if they had, the child could not be held liable.

In this case, he continued, there was no indication that Juliet’s mother “had any active role in the alleged incident, only that the mother was ‘supervising,’ a term that is too vague to hold meaning here.”

In conclusion, the judge wrote that there was not any evidence that Juliet had a “lack of intelligence or maturity” or anything else 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.”
 

16 user comments

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You have to be joaking. Only in the "land of the free"!

posted by GrimpeurChris [59 posts]
29th October 2010 - 9:38

1 Like

i just had to check the date .... going too far or what !

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [748 posts]
29th October 2010 - 9:40

2 Likes

Americans just luurrrvve suing each other don't they, ludicrous even a six year old child isn't excluded of this. Madness.

posted by Karbon Kev [682 posts]
29th October 2010 - 9:50

3 Likes

When America sneezes, Britain catches a cold. Some of our lawyers must be rubbing their greedy, grubby little hands in glee at the possibilities...

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [212 posts]
29th October 2010 - 10:13

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Unbelievable, unbelievable – just wondering what affect it will have on me when I take my son (also 4)out on his bike – I suspect none what-so-ever

... ... need more speed!

JC's picture

posted by JC [129 posts]
29th October 2010 - 10:19

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Just read the next story up "No charges against police officer following teenage cyclist's death"
The whole world must be on its head

... ... need more speed!

JC's picture

posted by JC [129 posts]
29th October 2010 - 10:21

1 Like

This more a sad reflection of the lack of universal health care in the US than anything to do with cycling. But that is the way that US citizens want to live, but is not the sort of freedom most people in civilised countries would want to live with (unless you are a Tory).

posted by Kim [141 posts]
29th October 2010 - 10:29

1 Like

And of course anyone saying this is madness is an "obama-socialist who hates freedom". or something

The Casati Owner's Club says - "Drink your Coffee strong"

posted by simonaspinall [10 posts]
29th October 2010 - 11:48

1 Like

I think it's perfectly reasonable that the parents should be responsible for their children and not let them ride into an elderly woman.

posted by wild man [287 posts]
29th October 2010 - 15:24

2 Likes

That probably is reasonable wild man, although they were probably telling them to be careful, I'd guess.

Bottom line is we don't know what happened and the judge didn't rule on whether there was any liability, just on whether a case could be brought against a child of that age for being negligent - which he ruled it can. The next stage is for it to go to court when the dead woman's estate sues her. I suppose in America someone's always got to be to blame and someone's always got to pay for that - even if they're four.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4155 posts]
29th October 2010 - 17:44

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tony_farrelly wrote:

Bottom line is [...] the judge didn't rule on whether there was any liability, just on whether a case could be brought against a child of that age for being negligent - which he ruled it can. The next stage is for it to go to court when the dead woman's estate sues her. I suppose in America someone's always got to be to blame and someone's always got to pay for that - even if they're four.

Like I said: when America sneezes, Britain catches a cold.

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [212 posts]
29th October 2010 - 17:58

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We shouldn't get too holier than thou about the US though when the DfT is playing the blame game with kids over here http://road.cc/content/news/26338

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4155 posts]
29th October 2010 - 18:03

1 Like

In my experience as a step parent and grandparent and as a psychologist, children of four do not have the kind of linear, cause and effect reasoning which would lead to being able to think like this: 'if I ride my bike fast along here, I might hit someone, then they might be hurt, and if they're very old it might be really serious for them'. As far as I'm aware, the brain capacity of a four year old cannot physically produce that kind of predictive thinking. I believe that there is research evidence to back this up. Unless maybe it had been drilled into them daily by an obsessive, fearful parent, and their brain had been forced in that direction.

What is this judge thinking of? Does he just hate children? He is not living in any real world that I recognise. There really should be a higher court or authority which should overturn this absurd decision.

posted by bikeylikey [171 posts]
30th October 2010 - 8:13

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wild man wrote:
I think it's perfectly reasonable that the parents should be responsible for their children and not let them ride into an elderly woman.

It was an accident and you think nothing will happen or expect someone to come out round a corner.

The parents will be liable as if they rode into the old lady as they are responsible as parents - legal facts and not my view as I remain a neutral but welcome to parental responsibility.

If it was a member of own family or friends we'd all be fuming.

The children are not at fault - but their parents are and will be liable for not supervising.

Say a black cyclist 14 yr old rode into a 25 yr old white lady going the wrong way and killed her - is there any difference??? well the Daily (hate) Mail would have it on their front cover. Internet users are quick to be critical...

Always have 3rd party insurance cycle! Big Grin

I like my bike but it needs a hidden 25cc motor Smile

Fish_n_Chips's picture

posted by Fish_n_Chips [325 posts]
30th October 2010 - 12:18

1 Like

We'd all be fuming if it was a 25 year old on a bike running in to an old lady, or even a 15 year old, in this case it was a four year old… which is why we're not fuming, well most of us anyway. Sometimes accidents happen.

Be interesting to know what the pavement along which they had their race was like though, that would have a lot of bearing in my mind as to whether the two mothers were negligent.

Although, maybe you could also argue that kids playing on the street is an accepted hazard of the street, just the way traffic is and as we all know just because you get knocked down by a car that doesn't automatically make it the driver's fault.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4155 posts]
30th October 2010 - 16:15

1 Like

Not the child's fault. But the parents whould be more aware of the environment within which their children play.

Just because the child is very young, this does resolve the parents from taking due care. An OAP (or fragile person) is not able to react quickly and has every right to expect the child to be properly controlled. The street is not a play area after all.

Having experience irresponsible parents, there are a lot of them out there. It is the parents who should be held responsible for their child's actions.

Marky

Marky Legs's picture

posted by Marky Legs [112 posts]
1st November 2010 - 11:31

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