In personal injury law, negligence is an actionable tort. An actionable tort refers to someone being careless and causing harm to another person.
This injured person can then sue to recover damages. Damages, the legal term for money, includes anything related to their injuries such as lost wages and medical bills.
Negligence dates back to common law. It is defined as a defendant being liable for an accident if they failed to act as a reasonable prudent person would in the same and/or similar situation. Their action or inaction did something to harm the plaintiff. For a child accused of harming a person, negligence is determined by their age.
Personal Injury Cases Involving Minors
Whether a minor is negligent for an accident that causes injuries depends on age, experience and intelligence.
All children six years old or under are incapable of being negligent. This means they do not understand right or wrong enough to act like a reasonable person and aren’t mature enough to understand the nature of their actions.
For instance, a four-year-old intentionally pushes an elderly woman and causes her to fracture her hip. It is presumed the four-year-old child is not capable of intentionally and negligently causing an accident.
SOMETIMES IT’S ASSUMED A CHILD OF ANY AGE IS INCAPABLE OF BEING NEGLIGENT
While children under seven are incapable of being negligent, it can be more complicated when a child is older–up to 14. It is assumed they are still incapable of negligence, but James Johnson, ESQ, founder and head attorney of Johnson Attorneys Group, says it can be rebutted.
“The plaintiff can show the child did have an ability to appreciate and understood the danger of their actions or inactions,” he said, and it might be able to be showed that the child’s actions were similar to a reasonable individual of the same intelligence and experience under the same circumstances.”
PUT ANOTHER WAY
Let’s change the previous scenario. Instead of a four-year-old, it was a 12-year-old who pushed an elderly woman and caused her fractured hip. While it is assumed the 12-year-old is incapable of understanding that another 12-year-old would not have pushed an elderly woman and caused her fractured hip, the elderly woman could possibly show the 12-year-old did understand they were doing something to cause harm to another person.
Children 14 Years Old or Older can be Held Accountable
Children 14 to 18 years old are in a unique category when it comes to negligence.
They can be found negligent for their actions. However, they can claim they did not understand their actions deviated from the reasonable person standard according to factors like their experience and intelligence.
This means they can avoid liability if they can prove they were incapable of negligence.
The only exception to the rule involves a car accident, because a minor is held to the same negligence standard as an adult when operating a motor vehicle.
For instance,if a 16-year-old driver ran a red light, hit an elderly woman and caused her fractured hip, the driver could not claim their maturity level prevented them from understanding their actions would hurt someone in an accident.
They must act like a reasonable driver would in the same and/or similar circumstance when operating a motor vehicle.
Proving a Defendant Liable
Once it is established if a minor can be held liable, a plaintiff must prove wrongdoing. In court, this involves proving elements.
“These elements include the fact that the defendant has a duty to protect the plaintiff, but then then breaches that duty,” said Johnson.