The 4-year-Old Defendant

Hi Readers! Probably by now most of you  have heard of this zrfsnbyfst
bizarre case:
A 4-year-old girl and a boy her same age were racing their bikes on the sidewalk, training wheels and all, when they ran into an elderly woman using a walker. The woman fell, broke her hip and died three weeks later. Tragic. Now her estate is suing, among others, the 4 year olds. When the girl’s lawyer (just writing that is weird) protested that the girl was too young to be held liable, the judge said if she were YOUNGER than 4, he’d agree. But as she was already 4, he is letting the trial proceed.

A bunch of you sent me notes about the case, and this one really struck me, from Matt Wall, in California:

Dear Free-Range Kids: It’s an unfortunate accident — a four-year-old on a bike collides with an elderly woman, who is hurt, and later dies, although to what extent as a result of this injury isn’t clear. Being hit by a bike certainly didn’t help.

But we live in a society where somebody has to be at fault, so why not sue the four-year-old? What I find so strange about this is this finding by the judge: He wrote that the the girl’s lawyer had presented no evidence as to the child’s lack of intelligence or maturity, nor that “a child of similar age and capacity” would not have understood the danger of riding a bicycle into an old woman.

So a child has the presumed competence — the “maturity,”  at the age of four to be sued? But not the maturity or competence to stay by themselves in a car for five minutes at age eight? Or to ride the subway alone at age nine?

We have parent-teacher conferences at our school this week. It’s a wonderful school but they have their own liability rules and other rules handed to them by the state. One of them is we can’t have our
six-year-old play quietly by himself in the protected court yard right outside his own first grade classroom while we meet with his teacher because he would be “unsupervised.” So we’re obliged to engage
a babysitter for an hour (good luck, midday on a weekday, we’re paying a premium for this).

Fear of the bogeyman of child predators, etc.,  is a part of what drives this hyper-sheltered vision of childhood. But it also seems that our extremely litigious society creates a different kind of fear. I wonder how many kids will now be denied the simple thrill of riding ahead on their bikes a little by parents petrified the kids or they themselves will be on the hook for a multimillion dollar judgment if an accident happens? — Matt

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  — L.


Felons from an earlier era?


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63 Responses to The 4-year-Old Defendant

  1. Stephanie - Home with the Kids November 2, 2010 at 12:08 am #

    That’s just scary. 4 year olds can be very responsible in some ways, but they can also be very impulsive, and certainly don’t completely understand how much they can hurt someone while riding a bicycle.

    The accident was tragic, no doubt about that. But the 4 year old wasn’t negligent, she was a 4 year old kid having fun.

    Quite possibly the parents should have been watching more carefully. It’s hard to say, not knowing the details. But it’s not the fault of the 4 year old.

  2. osujedimom November 2, 2010 at 12:20 am #

    what about a counter-suit from the child’s parents against the estate executors regarding the inability of said executors to properly take care of their elderly relative? she was “obviously” not healthy enough to be navigating a sidewalk by herself! sheesh. i can’t understand why people can’t accept that accidents do happen. everyday. i am a neurosurgical nurse in level 1 trauma center. i see tragedy all the time. life happens.

  3. Annmarie November 2, 2010 at 12:22 am #

    Wait, kids can’t come to the parent teacher conference? I always went with my parents. Smoetimes hey shooed us kids out of the room to speak privately but i was always there. Planning on bringing my 5 year old to hers next week. And she’s almost 6 and i would never think she has the maturity to not run into someone on her bike. Heck she does it every day running around the house!

  4. RobynHeud November 2, 2010 at 12:25 am #

    I think the judge needs to take a step back and think about whether he would hold his own 4-yr-old son or daughter (or grandchild) legally accountable at that age. Yes, a 4-yr-old can walk and talk and generally pour their own cereal, but I think it’s been proven that it isn’t until around the age of 8 that a child’s brain is developed enough to be able to think their actions through to the consequences. In this case, the children were definitely too young to think “Oh, if I ride my bike today, I could run into someone who could get seriously hurt and die and then be sued before I’m even old enough to go to kindergarten, thereby negating any chance in the future of being able to afford college without substantial student loans and the audacity of the trial hanging over my head for the rest of my life.”
    Yeah. I think it’s safe to say a 4-yr-old doesn’t think like that and it’s asinine and astounding that the judge would even think this was a reasonable assumption. Please, if this judge’s name is on the ballot this week, vote him off!

  5. Rich Wilson November 2, 2010 at 12:34 am #

    I read this opinion on Facebook regarding this case:

    The trial court judge in the cited case was following a 1928 case that established judicial precedent in this area of the law. The trial court judge is bound to follow that precedent. If New York’s appellate courts see fit to change the current rule concerning negligence and children, they will do so. And I expect that an appellate court will do just that.

    It’s not that the judge is crazy, it’s the system doesn’t allow the judge to have that opinion. It’s up to another set of judges to make the distinction that “this is nuts”.

  6. KateNonymous November 2, 2010 at 12:43 am #

    Why don’t they just try her for murder? If she is capable of understanding the consequences of her actions, then surely criminal charges should be filed against this four-year-old.

    Good lord.

  7. Erika Evans November 2, 2010 at 12:46 am #

    It’s my understanding that the woman died three months (not weeks) later, from unrelated causes.

    Nothing but a disgusting money grab by her relatives, who apparently think it’s fine to destroy this child’s family’s life in the process.

  8. themother November 2, 2010 at 1:11 am #

    4 year olds are competent to stand trial in a lawsuit, but high schoolers aren’t competent enough to take their own asthma medications.

    What a world we live in.

  9. Katie November 2, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    I’m actually really confused about why this has become such a big story. The truth is, there really isn’t anything out of the ordinary about it.

    My husband is an insurance agent. He makes a point of telling people that the most common claim against homeowners insurance isn’t from something that happens to the home, but a liability payout for something that the homeowner’s children or pets do. The coverage is built into the homeowner’s insurance, but the person making the claim against you generally has to sue for it.

    If they truly are suing the girl instead of the parents, that would be abnormal (as well as stupid, since a 4-year-old girl has no assets). But holding parents liable for the consequences of their children’s actions? Completely normal. Completely legal. And completely logical. You are liable for the damages if you cause a car accident–even if the car accident is a result of something you couldn’t actually control (you hit ice and slide into another car, for example).

    It is reasonable for the estate of the woman to expect restitution. Keeping with the car analogy, if a child accidentally ran her bike into the side of your car and created a huge dent, you wouldn’t shrug your shoulders, say “sucks to be me,” and pay for the repairs. You would expect the girl’s family to take financial responsibility for the repairs. Why is this suddenly a scandalous idea when you replace the car with a human being?

    Accountability is not a bad thing. And situations like this are part of why you have homeowners insurance. Really–it’s a non-story.

  10. Jay November 2, 2010 at 1:26 am #

    In 1989 a judge in British Columbia, Canada ruled that a THREE year old was “sexually aggressive” and therefore her abuser received only an 18 month sentence for “sexual interference”.

    These older male judges generally have not had much if ANY experience with young children. Thier kids were raised by thier wives (if they even have any) while the judges built thier own legal careeres.

    They just don’t have any frame of reference for “reasonable behaviour” from a 3 or 4 year old. And it is sad and crazy that these kids are being judged by these men.

    PS. I’d love to see a “jury of thier peers”… it is almost to bad that this isn’t a criminal proceeding… because 12 4 year olds in the jury would really point out to the judge how crazy this is!

  11. Uly November 2, 2010 at 1:49 am #

    If they truly are suing the girl instead of the parents, that would be abnormal (as well as stupid, since a 4-year-old girl has no assets).

    They are. They are suing the parents AND they are suing the child separately. This is clear in every article I’ve read, and it simply doesn’t make sense to me. Surely suing the parents is sufficient?

  12. Uly November 2, 2010 at 1:50 am #

    In fact, I’ll quote from this article:

    Ms Menagh – and later her son, acting as executor of her estate – sued the children, arguing they were “negligent in their operation and control of their bicycles”. The estate also sued Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn, saying they had consented to the race.

    Four people (two mothers, two children) and each of them is being sued.

  13. kcs November 2, 2010 at 1:58 am #

    The only logic I could see behind suing the children in addition to suing the parents is if these families are of a socio-economic bracket where the children might have assets of their own–trusts or some such. Or perhaps the lawyers are afraid that the parents will somehow transfer some of their assets to their children to protect those assets if they (the parents) are found liable for what happened?

  14. Katie November 2, 2010 at 2:06 am #

    Then, yes, to sue the child is idiotic. I have only read articles commenting on the story, all of which seem to be focusing on the “how can you hold them liable, accidents happen” angle. Suing the child is dumb. Suing the parents is completely logical.

  15. Emily November 2, 2010 at 2:40 am #

    When I was taking teacher training in university, we studied the theories of Jean Piaget on child development, which as far as I know are still accepted. Children around the ages of 2 to 7 are in the pre-operational stage of intellectual development, in which they are prone to magical thinking and not considered capable of much logical reasoning. I find it difficult to believe that a child of 4 could be found guilty of negligence and am surprised a judge thought it was worth going to trial.

  16. Jessika November 2, 2010 at 3:22 am #

    The news made it across the Atlantic and into swedish newspapers (among many). Let’s say that commentators find the thing kinda well, ludicrous. The children were playing, as in playing. It was an accident but I guess nothing is viewed as purely accidental these days? Even if the children were old enough to fathom consequences, as would the parents, do you set up with the thought range of well the children will hit this woman and wow we’re sued.
    We no longer assume the best, we always assume the worse.
    And then they say that there’s a problem with kids not moving around enough. Duh!!

  17. pentamom November 2, 2010 at 3:31 am #

    Jay, I wouldn’t dismiss the idea that a three year old can be sexually aggressive. A child who’s been exposed to abuse, or even inappropriate behavior in front of them by adults, can have some pretty weird effects at pretty weird ages.

    The travesty there is that any “sexual aggression” by a three year old could be deemed grounds for absolving an adult of any degree of responsibility for responding to it.

  18. Ash November 2, 2010 at 4:32 am #

    Being sued and having a criminal record for life is not a body injury, you cannot sue back over this, therefore is not a danger

  19. Kel November 2, 2010 at 5:03 am #

    There’s a big difference between knowing that your actions can have consequences and being able to act quickly enough to prevent them. Even if the kids had noticed her and been able to determine that hitting her would be a bad idea, they might not be able to steer away and hit the brake in time to avoid a collision.

  20. Library Diva November 2, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    The difference I see between the dent analogy and this case is that the dent is fixable. Pursuing a payout through the insurance of the parents of the kid who hit the car will likely just cause the parents’ insurance to go up a bit, maybe not even. This woman is dead as an indirect result of what happened. Suing a four-year-old will not bring her back. I see it motivated purely by greed, and I’d love to see the family’s rationalization for their suit. With all the backlash, have they spoken out in public yet?

  21. kherbert November 2, 2010 at 7:22 am #

    Matt are you sure the child isn’t supposed to be at the conference. I prefer to have the child present. If we need to have a private conversation as part of the conference, the child sits in a chair outside the room.

  22. Nicole Down Under November 2, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    So, let me get this straight. A 5-year old runs in front of a car and his dad is charged with involuntary manslaughter. But a girl a full year younger is responsible enough for her own actions to be sued like this? I’m just absolutely gobsmacked…

  23. pentamom November 2, 2010 at 8:17 am #

    I dunno Ash, you can sue over lots of things that aren’t bodily injury. I’m not one for recommending suing, but as things go, I’m pretty sure you could reasonably bring some kind of countersuit for mental distress or something like that.

    In fact, you “can sue” for almost ANYTHING. The real question is whether it’s likely first to get hearing, and then to win.

  24. owen59 November 2, 2010 at 8:50 am #

    From a legal point of view the issue goes to competence and I am surprised there isn’t a definition in law, as there is in many countries, that limits the magistrates decision in the matter. In regard the fault, an 81 year old can and often do die post hip fracture, it is one of the common causes of death in the elderly. A younger person would not fracture, nor die, from the incident. However, I am not sure what the family is suing over. That an elderly (near to death) member of the family passed away outside their control? And the society or the innocently involved owes someone compensation for this? This, as my sainted aunt would say, is a lack of abdominal fortitude ie a lack of guts, courage, spiritual insight. It is a parasitic action, that has nothing to do with the meaning of death, but a lot to do with the insipidness of character, the lack of facing up to death, loss, grief. Open up to the universe or God, and cry from the depths of your love and loss, and find even more love for humanity. A 4yo is an act of God, to run away into a delusion path of blaming a 4yo, is just hiding from reality. A society that supports such delusional behaviour, is a broken, unreliable, weak organism.

  25. Larry Harrison November 2, 2010 at 9:06 am #

    theMother I was just thinking the same sort of thing–all the other messages we hear about kids are how they’re not old enough to handle practically anything, so how in the world do they rationalize THIS?

    Katie Sorry, but I disagree–I think suing the child OR the parents would be wrong. Accidents happen. This is an accident. It’s not like the children were riding a motorized ATV or something.


  26. bmj2k November 2, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    The judge later “clarified” that if the child were two he would not allow the suit, but this child was “just two months shy of his fifth birthday” and therefore “knew right from wrong.”

    So I have a couple of questions.
    1- Can this be appealed on the basis that tehejudge is not an expert on child-rearing but claiming to give an expert opinion? Can an expert be brought in to refute?

    2- Can this be appealed on the grounds of age discrimination against the child?

    And as far as five year olds go, I wonder how many responsible five olds the judge knows, as I have yet to meet one.

  27. SKL November 2, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    In law school I read of a case where a little boy intentionally pulled a chair out from under an adult’s butt, and was legally liable for the damage. (Of course this was only pursued because his parents were rich, cha-ching.) At least in that case, the child had purposely done something he knew was wrong. Riding a bike isn’t even wrong. In my state, at least the last time I checked, neither a child nor parent is liable for the damages of an accident beyond a fairly small amount of money. This, no doubt, is to prevent people from looking for opportunities to sue rich people’s kids. After all, find me one kid who has never bumped into someone.

  28. Wonder in the Woods November 2, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    I cannot believe the judge will have to decide the competency of a 4 yo. This is crazy. I suppose yes, we have homeowners insurance, those of us who OWN homes. And non-homeowners can get an umbrella liability policy. I really don’t understand how this insurance covers when it is not on your own property and how negligence factors in to it, etc. BUT this should not involve the 4 yo AT ALL. What happens if the parents do not have insurance? If the children are not dismissed and the parents/children lose this case, then does this go against the parents and the children forever until it is paid? I guess I need to contact my insurance agent to find out just what homeowners or an umbrella liability policy will cover. I still think it is crazy though.

  29. tommynomad November 2, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    The law is the law. It seems the judge (and removing through mandatory-minimum and similar legislation the ability of judges to actually judge is a huge problem) had no real choice.
    I believe there are laws in other countries whereby people can be held liable for frivolous use of the court system, though.
    If the facts as described here are correct, then the dead woman’s family are clearly in the wrong, and ought to be ashamed of themselves. What am I saying? There’s no shame anymore!

    I think a smart lawyer would indeed demand a jury of her peers in this case. Isn’t that law constitutional, and therefore unavoidable?

  30. Beth November 2, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    Hmm. As the letter writer somewhat alluded to, I wonder what would happen if this same 4-year-old was left alone in the car while her mom ran in to pay for gas, and a “concerned citizen” called the police.

  31. Gail November 2, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    This is ridiculous but, sadly, not new behaviour.

    I’m Canadian but when I was very little my family lived in New Jersey for a few years. At five years old, just a week or so after learning to ride a bicycle, I was bombing up and down the street in front of our house. We lived almost at the end of a dead end street, so all kinds of things were safe that I’d never allow my own chldren to do. Anyway, a bunch of older boys were playing baseball in the street at the same time I was riding my bike and the sister of one of them was sitting on the kerb on my side of the street, watching them. She must have been about 10 or 12, significantly older than me. One of the boys hit the ball toward the edge if the street, far enough ahead of me that I could avoid it but the idiot sister jumped up and ran right in front of me to catch it and there was absolutely nothing I could do. We both went down and I went crying into the house for my mother to clean up my knees. A few days later I saw her on crutches, with her leg in a cast, and clued in that she’d gotten hurt too and worse.

    It was many years later that my mother told me the girl had broken her knee and that her parents threatened to sue my parents if they didn’t pay the medical expenses. The real shame of it all is that nobody ever asked me what happened, the adults all assumed it had to be my fault and the girl must have kept her mouth shut about what happened. Thus was in the early 1970s by the way. Plus ça change …

  32. Jay November 2, 2010 at 10:57 am #


    I’m am aware of why a 3 year old would be sexually aggressive. 🙁 Which makes the event all the more tragic, and IMO makes the actions even MORE not the child’s fault.

    The appropriate reaction to a sexually agressive toddler (!) is reporting the child to Child Protective Services as a possible victim of abuse. Not re-victimizing her, or blaming her for her own re-victimization as this judge did.

    I remember this case, I don’t live that far away from where this occured, and it was in the news for months.

  33. David Black November 2, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    I suspect the judge does not have children, but If he is simply following the law, then “the law is an ass”.
    In any event, shame on the estate of the elderly woman fo even think of sueing 4-year-old children. She is probably turning in her grave, but, if not, shame on her too.

  34. mbbored November 2, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    At first I agreed, with you, but the more I read, the more I can understand the other point of view.
    1. According to what I read, the judge’s decision means that the girl AND her parents are liable(so nobody’s going to steal the contents of her piggy bank.)
    2. The girl was racing on a sidewalk in Manhattan, which strikes me as a bad idea. That’s a crowded place, and unsuitable for racing.
    3. Yes, the woman died three months later. That often happens with hip breaks, though. The fall is too often the beginning of the end. Elderly people often can’t handle the stress of surgery, rehab, loss of independence.
    Is this possibly a frivolous lawsuit? Yes. But it also looks like the parents made some bad decision, and those bad decisions took a poor elderly woman away from her family.

  35. Kiwimum November 2, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Here in New Zealand, you cannot sue for personal injury. Instead, workers and employers pay a levy into a fund which is administered by the Accident Compensation Commission. If you are injured in an accident (there is no need to establish fault), then this can pay for medical treatment (although we have a public health system, anyway) and also pays an allowance for time off work, and a long term and/or lump sum payments in case of long term or permanent disablement, funeral expenses, and even mental trauma. There is a lot of debate about levels of payment, eligibility and occasional abuse, but IMHO much better than the arbitrary results of “fault-based” systems requiring expensive litigation in which much of the money is sucked up by the legal process, not to mention the resulting fear and over-insurance.

    We travelled in the US recently, including renting bikes in Central Park. We warned our kids that in an emergency they were to fling themselves off and injure themselves rather than hit anyone under any circumstances (we did have travel insurance, but figured their injuries would be cheaper/easier on the family than a US lawsuit). We have shown them this article, and now they understand why we said that!

  36. Sean November 2, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    There was a time when this was just a tragic accident. I wonder is the family of the 4 year old was wealthy? And did the suing party learn of the wealth and……not hatin, just askin.

  37. Jennifer November 2, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    I’m against this lawsuit, but I’m also concerned about the idea that this case involves only a tragic accident or “act of God.” My kids rode their bikes outside on the front sidewalk when they were four. I taught them that, as the person on the bike, they were always responsible for watching for pedestrians. We had careful conversations about how pedestrians have the right of way. I took bikes away for a while a couple times when I looked out the window and saw them not riding carefully enough when people were walking past.

    If we are going to believe kids are responsible at young ages, and give them responsibility, we also need to teach them responsibility. These kids should not have been racing down a sidewalk with pedestrians. They should have known that, and if they didn’t their parents should have stopped the activity. I think a lawsuit is wrong here, but if it were my kids they would be in a lot of trouble.

  38. coffeegod November 2, 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    I can see the scene: 4 year old on a pink two wheeler with training wheels and tassels. Steely glint in her eye as she spies the tottering old lady on the sidewalk. The kid puts the foot to the pedal (literally) and thunders towards going a blistering 3 miles an hour. The little old lady is unable to move out of the way in time, having only seen the child when she was a block away.

    I hope that child was wearing a helmet.

  39. Lola November 2, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    I really don’t get your legal system at all.
    So, if by any chance the girl’s parents are off the hook, but the girl herself is found liable, how does she get to pay??? I assume that suing the girl separately leaves her parents out of the question, right? So do they auction her bike and her teddy? Does she get to do community service?? Her tricycle permit is retired???

  40. socialjerk November 2, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    For those asking if the family was wealthy–there’s an assumption that families living in that area have money.

    And I have to say, suing a 4 year old is ridiculous, but letting your kids race on a sidewalk in Manhattan? Also a bad idea. We have plenty of bike paths and parks in the city, where this kind of thing wouldn’t be a problem.

  41. coffeegod November 2, 2010 at 11:55 pm #

    @ Lola – if the suit against the parents is dismissed, the girl will pay in hair ribbons, jelly beans or drawings of princesses on ponies.

    I don’t get the legal system in this country either. Sadly, I live here and I work for lawyers.

  42. Adriana November 3, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    So the estate is suing the children and the parents for negligence. Not the woman’s death, which was due to unrelated causes 3 months after the accident, but for negligence. Suing for negligence of a 4 and 5yr old…. I am flabbergasted.

    “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. The crucial factor is whether the parent encourages the risky behavior; if so, the child should not be held accountable.” – Justice Wooten, NY Times

    So if I understand this correctly, if a ‘reasonably prudent’ 4yr old runs into the street after being told the dangers of doing so, and is hit by a car… can the driver sue the child for emotional hardship (or whatever the term is) of hitting said child since the child should have understood the risky behavior of running into the street? Seriously?

    And the rest of the judge’s comment: In Ms. Menagh’s case, however, there was nothing to indicate 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,” he wrote. He concluded that there was no evidence of Juliet’s “lack of intelligence or maturity” or anything to “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.”

    My question is how can a 4yr old foresee that riding a bicycle on the sidewalk could cause injury to someone? Children believe for the most part that they themselves are invincible. They fall down all the time and nothing serious happens.

    I still say accidents happen. If the woman stepped into the way of the child’s bike path moments before the child got there, then it’s possible that the child wouldn’t have had time to avoid hitting her. Did the woman not see the children riding on the sidewalk? Could she not have foreseen that walking by children racing on bikes might cause herself injury?

    This case is ludicrous.

  43. BMS November 3, 2010 at 12:05 am #

    Just because you can legally sue someone for something doesn’t mean you should.

    I mean, I can legally decide to never lift a hand to assist my elderly father, should I so choose. I have no legal obligation to help him sort out his bills or arrange meals on wheels. If he isn’t living with me, I could ignore him potentially living in squallor, legally. Doesn’t mean it is right. So sorry, the whole ‘it’s legal’ argument does nothing for me. It’s still wrong. The kids are probably messed up and guilty enough about the whole situation. Stupid accidents happen.

  44. Uly November 3, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    Being sued and having a criminal record for life is not a body injury, you cannot sue back over this, therefore is not a danger

    Ash, isn’t this a civil suit? It wouldn’t leave a criminal record – and at any rate, aren’t cases involving children sealed after they reach 18 except in particularly heinous cases?

  45. strictscrutiny November 3, 2010 at 1:07 am #

    Civil actions aren’t criminal ones. Torts suits are not about assessing moral blame but about compensating someone for his or her loss.

    Going back centuries, people with no rational consciousness can be liable in tort for harming others. For example, when an insane person causes injury, insanity is never a defense. Ever. See McGuire v. Almy, 8 N.E.2d 760 (Mass. 1937).

    So this is not a story about the legal system’s moral hectoring of very young children. This is simply a story about making a family whole for its loss.

    The only reason that children rarely get sued is that children typically have no assets (tort suits against children cannot reach the parents’ assets). But in this case, the 4-year-old probably has a trust fund, which can be reached by involuntary creditors.

    I implore freerangekids not to draw any wide-scale moral lesson from this case.

  46. pentamom November 3, 2010 at 1:13 am #

    Jennifer, I agree. But where this should fall apart is the assumption that a four year old should be held liable *because she is old enough to be expected to consistently obey such warnings and use good judgment.*

    IOW, a four year old is old enough to be taught to watch out for pedestrians, and old enough to be capable of it. I think it’s ridiculous, though, that a four year old is considered old enough to be held liable for *consistently applying* that kind of judgment. “Knowing better” but not doing it consistently is what separates four year olds from two year olds and ten year olds — two year olds don’t know better, ten year olds can be expected to consistently apply what they know (in simple situations like this one) but four year olds are in between.

  47. Ash November 3, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    Not literally, but this is how i see this system. (Note, I dont live here) :

    Everything that can cause a minor scratch is danger. Kids must be protected from it, and sheltered at all times

    A lawsuit, record, etc. are ‘legit legal acts acceptable in the legal system’ therefore are not considered dangerous, dont endanger th kid

    Everyone who is not like an others, i.e happened to be involved in an accident, however unpredicted and/or inevitable it be, must be blacklisted and treated to the maximum extent possible

    Injuries to soul are not as visible as a bleeding minor scratch, so dont hurt in the eye to everyone around, so they are not magically ‘responsible’ like normal pop-up-from-thin-air busybodies are

  48. SKL November 3, 2010 at 2:30 am #

    There are 4-year-olds who can’t even be relied upon to leave their play to go to the toilet when the need arises. Many, in fact. There are 4-year-olds whose parents still keep them on leashes or in strollers. Are there seriously people who expect every 4-year-old to be able to predict that a physically vulnerable person might walk into their path while they ride their training-wheel bike? Sure, some 4-year-olds are that forward-thinking, and have parents who have drilled responsibility into them, and are obedient enough to avoid the temptation to bike-ride too fast on a city sidewalk. But they would be the exception to the rule, in my opinion. I’m not sure how the judge is analyzing this child’s mens rea. Perhaps both parties brought in experts and the judge went along with the plaintiff’s expert. It all sounds strange to me.

    In my opinion, grown-ups should watch out for children and expect them to do childish things. If a preschool child collides with me, it is either nobody’s fault or my own fault. As much as I remind my preschool daughters to be aware and careful, I expect adults to give them some grace when mistakes occur. And I’m sorry to say, if that lady could not survive an encounter with a 4-year-old on a kiddy bike, she was not destined to be long on this earth in any case.

    But bottom line, accidents happen. Is there no “safe zone” in the state laws for plain accidents? I think there should be.

  49. Jenny Islander November 3, 2010 at 2:39 am #

    I have a four-year-old. She is learning how to ride a trike.

    The thought of that little girl being dragged into court for not being able to steer with proficiency, brake suddenly, anticipate the movements of nearby pedestrians, etc., due to BEING FOUR YEARS OLD AND HAVING A BRAIN THE SIZE OF A GRAPEFRUIT is both absurd and horrifying. Can you imagine growing up knowing that the Bosses of Town have agreed that you are bad? Because that is how grapefruit-brain-size logic would parse a lawsuit.

  50. SgtMom November 3, 2010 at 7:01 am #

    What this article tells me between the lines is that the old lady was hit by the 4 year old girl.

    If she had been hit by the four year old boy, HE would have been held responsible, and the 4 year old girl never mentioned.

    As it’s worded, it seems BOTH kids are going to be held liable.

  51. Rich Wilson November 3, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    As it’s worded, it seems BOTH kids are going to be held liable.

    We’e getting ahead of ourselves here. It just means the girl can (and will) be sued. It doesn’t mean she’ll be held liable. That remains to be seen.

  52. Nicola November 3, 2010 at 11:34 am #

    I’m so disgusted that this is even an issue. Wow.

  53. thinkbannedthoughts November 3, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    This is so sad I don’t even know how to respond. I’ll be looking up the name and address of the judge in charge of allowing this travesty of justice to move forward. Perhaps a polite letter (or a thousand polite letters) will help him see the light. Allowing a 4 year old to face a civil lawsuit for riding a trike and being a kid is NOT a good precedent. As so many people have said – how is it that she can be held accountable for this, but is not allowed to sit in the car while her mom pays for gas. 8 year olds are not allowed to walk to school alone. Kids are constantly told they’re not old enough for the basic freedoms we all enjoyed, but some judge is going to saddle this child with all of the responsibility of a full grown adult. I’m calling B.S. and I’ll be politely letting the judge and the estate lawyer know. I hope you’ll all join me in fighting back against the “law” on this one.

  54. North of 49 November 3, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    One wonders if the heirs of the estate were ever 4 year old children?

  55. Laura Earle November 4, 2010 at 2:29 am #

    The nonsense of bringing a 4yo to court aside,

    Why aren’t children brought to parent-teacher conferences? It is the child who will be talked about, the child who is ultimately responsible for the content and results of the meeting, why on earth would it be a good idea to leave them out of the conversation?

  56. ebohlman November 4, 2010 at 7:43 am #

    I wonder if this isn’t one of those cases where an insurance company is suing on behalf of their policyholders, whether or not the policyholders feel a suit is justified.

  57. Tilcat November 4, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    My thought, too; probably the medical insurance. My family members had to have out-patient surgeries this year and, while the insurance co has paid as contracted, the accounts were also automatically turned over to a “Recovery Company” which has sent multiple questionnaires to determine if they were result of accidents that were: a) employment-based and therefore covered by workmans comp; b) auto accidents and therefore covered by someone else’s auto insurance; c) any other medical insurance that could be tapped; or d) any third party that could conceivably be sued for a recovery of funds already disbursed. The questionnaires specifically note that failure to respond could jeopardize future benefits.

  58. Donna November 6, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    I also think that it’s important to keep in mind that the judge just said that the lawsuit could go forward not that the 4 year old did anything wrong. There is a huge difference in saying that some is sue-able and saying that someone is negligent. This judge didn’t say anything about the merits of the case or the negligence of the child. he just said that the estate can sue if it wants.

  59. physicsmom November 8, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    Wow. I’m going to have to do more research on the case; there are several points which are confusing. However, the gall of the family of the injured woman is the thing that just astounds me, especially if it’s true that she died of unrelated causes and they are suing for negligence (on behalf of the dead woman?). I didn’t know that dead people can sue.

    Further, the issue, to me is, that 4-year-olds may be able to manage riding a bike on the sidewalk, but that does not mean that they are able to control them very well yet. Thank goodness that there are sidewalks; where my daughter grew up, we had none and kids learned to ride bikes in the street! Imagine the panic of the kids as they approached the lady and realized that there was no way to avoid her, assuming they saw her at all and she didn’t appear from a doorway or something. This is total craziness.

  60. tran farez November 15, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

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  61. Rich Wilson November 17, 2010 at 2:46 am #

    How’s this for a bizarre lawsuit:

    A driver who’s serving a manslaughter sentence for striking and killing a 14-year-old boy is suing the victim’s parents, blaming them for their son’s death because they allowed him to ride his bike in the street without a helmet.

    This is a driver who was doing > 80mph in a 45 zone, and has 4 DUI convictions (although no DUI in this case)

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  1. We have the fear, just not the right kind! | Ya Maamaa - November 5, 2010

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