Yep, as of Oct 1st, when Justice Paul Wooten of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, found 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.
The judge did not find that the tyke was liable, merely that she can be sued.
The relevant facts are as follows... In April of 2009, Jacob Kohn and Juliet Breitman, both 4, were racing their bicycles on the sidewalk of East 52nd St, while being watched by their mothers, Rachel Kohn and Dana Breitman. At some point in their race, they struck an 87-year-old woman, Claire Menagh, who was walking in front of the building and was subsequently “seriously and severely injured,” suffering a hip fracture that required surgery. She died three months later of unrelated causes, and her estate then brought a suit against the kids and their parents.
The Breitmans lawyers argued that the girl was not “engaged in an adult activity” at the time of the accident and was too young to be held liable for negligence. The Kohns did not try to dismiss the action against them. But, the judge found that while "infants under the age of 4 are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence" Juliet was 3 months shy of her 5th birthday, and there is no bright line rule for those over the age of 4.
He went on to say “A parent’s presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across a street,” the judge wrote. He added that any “reasonably prudent child,” who presumably has been told to look both ways before crossing a street, should know that dashing out without looking is dangerous, with or without a parent there. Judge Wooten state that the crucial factor is whether the parent encourages the risky behavior; if so, the child should not be held accountable. Here, however, Mrs. Breitman was not cheering her tyke on as she crashed into an elderly woman.
I find it a bit scary that 4 year olds can be held liable. But it seems a sign of the times, our kids have to grow up faster than ever before. Liable at 4 and potentially sexting or drinking by 12... it's a scary, scary world these days.