Four-Year-Old Cannot Be Negligent, Court Says

People of all ages can cause accidents—even children. But in cases in which the parents did nothing wrong, when can a child be held liable for his or her actions? One state’s supreme court addressed this issue in a recent case.

boy-469264_960_720While a woman was babysitting a four-year-old, the boy threw a rubber dolphin toy at her, hitting her in the eye. Since the woman had previous eye injuries, the woman lost her sight in that eye as a result of the incident. The woman brought suit against the boy’s parents for negligent supervision, which was quickly denied. In addition, the woman sued the boy individually for his own negligence.

That state’s supreme court held that the four-year-old could not be held liable for negligence. The court decided that children under the age of five30 could never be held liable for negligence. The court reasoned that children under five years old have a limited ability to appreciate how their actions could result in harm and that they have a limited ability to control impulses. Accordingly, the court stated that there was very little possibility that a child under five years old would be deserving of moral criticism or capable of being deterred by the law. In addition, requiring a child to testify about his or her ability to understand consequences and impulse control is especially difficult when a trial would likely occur years after the actual incident.

Children and Negligence in Illinois

In Illinois, generally children under seven years old cannot be individually negligent. This is known as the “tender years” doctrine and is a rule followed in certain states. The reasoning behind the rule is that children are less capable than adults of being attentive and considering the risks of their conduct. All courts in the United States recognize a person’s age as a relevant circumstance in determining whether an individual was negligent. However, courts disagree about how to include this factor in determinations. Some states reject fixed age limits, while others provide a cutoff age. While some states argue that a bright line rule is arbitrary, it can also lead to more predictable results.

For children between seven and 14 in Illinois, there is a rebuttable presumption against the ability to be liable for negligence. For those children, a court should consider the child’s age, capacity, intelligence, and experience in determining the ability to be negligent. For children 14 years old or older, typically they are held to an adult standard of care—meaning that they are able to be found negligent. However, children of any age who engage in “adult activities” can also be held to an adult standard of care. Examples of adult activities include driving a car and riding a motorcycle.

Have You Been Involved in an Accident with a Minor?

If you have been injured by a minor in an accident, you may be able to prove that the minor was negligent. This will depend on the minor’s age and the act in which the minor engaged. No matter the circumstances, you should have an experienced personal injury attorney look at your case so that you know how to proceed. At Moll Law Group, our Illinois attorneys have experience in complicated personal injury claims. Call us at 312-462-1700 or contact us through our online form to arrange a free initial consultation.

See More Posts:

Spring 2016 Moll Law Group College Scholarship Winner is . . ., Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, April 18, 2016.

Recent Case Discusses How Settlement Terms Can Bar All Future Claims, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, March 1, 2016.

Court Considers Causation Issues in Defective Gun Case, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, March 8, 2016.