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4-Year-Old Able To Be Sued, NY Judge Rules

A "bright line" has been drawn for future negligence cases by New York State Supreme Court Justice Paul Wooten, who ruled this week that 4-year-olds approaching their fifth birthday are not "presumed incapable of negligence," The New York Times reports.

Justice Wooten was referring in this case to Juliet Breitman, who had been racing her training-wheel-laden bike against fellow toddler Jacob Kohn on East 52nd Street in Manhattan two years ago when they struck 87-year-old Claire Menagh. The elderly woman suffered a hip fracture and died three weeks later.

Ms. Menagh's estate sued the children and their parents, who had been supervising the kids at the time of the accident, claiming negligence on everyone's behalf. Breitman and her mother's lawyer, James P. Tyrie, sought to dismiss the suit against the toddler by arguing that the girl was not "engaged in an adult activity" at the time of the accident - "She was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother" - and was too young to be held liable for negligence, the Times reports. Kohn and his mother did not seek to dismiss the suit.

Tyrie argued that the precedent had been set by previous courts who have held that "an infant under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence."

Justice Wooten, however, ultimately disagreed with Tyrie's arguments, noting that Breitman was three months shy of her fifth birthday at the time of the accident. The Gothamist reports that Justice Wooten's ruling stated: "A parent's presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across the street. A reasonably prudent child, whom we may presume has been told repeatedly by the age of four to look both ways before crossing a street, knows that running across a street is dangerous even if there is a parent nearby." And furthermore, the defense failed to prove any "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."

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