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New York Judge Rules 6-Year-Old Can Be Sued 799

Posted by Soulskill
from the court-is-more-interesting-than-kindergarten-anyway dept.
suraj.sun sends this snippet from Reuters: "A girl can be sued over accusations she ran over an elderly woman with her training bicycle when she was 4 years old, a New York Supreme Court justice has ruled. The ruling by King's County Supreme Court Justice Paul Wooten stems from an incident in April 2009 when Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, both aged four, struck an 87-year-old pedestrian, Claire Menagh, with their training bikes. Menagh underwent surgery for a fractured hip and died three months later. In a ruling made public late Thursday, the judge dismissed arguments by Breitman's lawyer that the case should be dismissed because of her young age. He ruled that she is old enough to be sued and the case can proceed."
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New York Judge Rules 6-Year-Old Can Be Sued

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  • Wait what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chas (5144) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:23AM (#34072892) Homepage Journal

    Okay, a pair of four year olds on their bikes. Accidentally hit an old lady.

    And they're going to sue the four year olds?

    Okay guys. It really IS time to kill all the lawyers.

    *Grabs a gun*

    • by yorugua (697900) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:27AM (#34072914)
      They are just building up a business model for bike insurance
    • by magarity (164372) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:35AM (#34072976)

      It really IS time to kill all the lawyers

      No, don't worry, the little girls will be OK in the end. Their lawyer will in turn sue the bicycle manufacturer because there wasn't a sticker on it saying 'WARNING: DO NOT RUN OVER OLD PEOPLE'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Okay, a pair of four year olds on their bikes. Accidentally hit an old lady.

      And they're going to sue the four year olds?

      Okay guys. It really IS time to kill all the lawyers.

      *Grabs a gun*

      Would you like to explain exactly what problem you see in this? The accident caused serious injury, which means the family of the old lady probably is now facing a large medical bill. Do you think they should have to pay that, rather than having the parents of the kids pay it?

      • Yes (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770)

        Normally insurance works like that. If I get injured in an accident, that is why I have medical insurance. They pay for fixing me up. Doesn't matter if I caused it or if someone else did, they cover my bills. That's the point.

        Now the only cases where this differs is in cases of negligence or if something was deliberate. If someone was negligent in their actions then they can be accountable for the harm they caused.

        People need to accept that, in life, shit happens. That is the whole point of insurance, for w

    • yay sociopaths (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Saturday October 30, 2010 @11:44AM (#34073520) Homepage
      Great, as a lawyer it's great to know that you're going to try and kill me for the actions taken by another lawyer who I don't know, have never met, and is handling a case that I would never take. You're also going to kill the lawyers who presumably tried to stop this from happening, the other side of the lawsuit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The lawyers are not suing. The old women's family is suing. Blame yourself and the politicians you elect that make the laws that allow this. This is like saying we should kill all the mechanics because Lada's suck.

  • by flaming error (1041742) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:24AM (#34072896) Journal

    The law (which he probably didn't write) says that accountability starts at four years old. The child was four.

    What else was the judge supposed to do?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      My understanding is that previous jurisprudence stated that a child under four could not be ruled accountable. This, however, did not say anything about the degree or nature or permissibility of such a ruling for ages four and above.
      • by Loadmaster (720754) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @11:02AM (#34073156) Homepage

        Previous rulings have held that there is a sliding scale of responsibility between 4 and, I believe, 12. At four a child is presumed to not be capable of fully understanding their actions so it is on the plaintiff to prove that this particular four year old did understand. A very tough task indeed. At 12, the burden is on the defense to prove that this particular child could not understand his/her actions.

        The big decision in this case was that the parents cannot be sued. Now the plaintiff is going to have to prove that a four year old on her training wheeled bike, racing another child, was cognizant of the ramifications of her actions of riding on the sidewalk. Good luck with that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arth1 (260657)

      Article 40 of the Convention of Children's Rights says:
      "Governments are required to set a minimum age below which children cannot be held criminally responsible and to provide minimum guarantees for the fairness and quick resolution of judicial or alternative proceedings."

      When the article was written, I am pretty sure that the signers didn't envision that 'tis of thee would set that minimum age at *four*. That's just ridiculous. 14 is the common standard, as far as I can tell.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by XaXXon (202882)

        This isn't a criminal investigation, though.

        Suing is civil.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Aren't you ignoring half of what he quoted?

          and to provide minimum guarantees for the fairness and quick resolution of judicial or alternative proceedings.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Chas (5144)

          Well, if they're technically suing the kid (and not the parents), then just have the kid declare bankruptcy.

          Right wrong or otherwise, after seven years, he'll still only be in his early teens and won't need to use credit for anything for another 3-5 years.

          And if this isn't allowable, they've just set a precedence for essentially allowing the return of indentured servitude.

    • by tverbeek (457094) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:37AM (#34072994) Homepage

      The law (which he probably didn't write) says that accountability starts at four years old. The child was four.
      What else was the judge supposed to do?

      Exercise judicial review of incompetent legislation?
      Exercise judicial assessment of a meritless suit?

      The position of "judge" is not a clerical one, tasking the person to do whatever they're assigned to do. As the title implies, it's a job that calls for the exercise of "judgment".

      • by hjf (703092) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @11:06AM (#34073186) Homepage

        This is slashdot, we're computer nerds. Guys here seem to think about law as "orthogonal", cause-and-effect, etc.

        Guess what guys: it's not. It's quite subjective. That's why there are appeals.

      • by Loadmaster (720754) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @11:29AM (#34073394) Homepage

        You must live in Louisiana. In English Common Law you follow precedent unless you can satisfactorily distinguish the instant case from prior cases. If you use your personal "judgment" to adjudicate that is judicial activism. Judicial review of incompetent legislation is usually handled by the Supreme Court of any state unless there is an egregious violation that the court needs to correct. Legislation is not at issue here so I'm not sure why you think the judge should have done this. Judicial assessment of a merit-less suit, I'll assume you mean failure to state a claim, is a job for the trial court. This was an interlocutory appeal to decide who could be sued. The judge could only decide that issue and could not, sua sponte, decide the case should go away.

        Judges do judge, but they can only adjudicate very specific issues within a very strict rule set. They cannot do whatever they want. Judge's may decide only the issue that is before them. Dismissing the case was outside the scope of his authority.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:26AM (#34072908)

    What happened to accidents? It seems that everything in life needs to be controlled, somebody is accountable. There is no space for accidents, so somebody got to hang, that's when it comes to small girls. But when you talk about serious crimes like foreclosure fraud and the wall street fraud then they don't press charges because 'they might find the culprit'.

    • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:28AM (#34072926) Journal

      There is no space for accidents, so somebody got to hang, that's when it comes to small girls. But when you talk about serious crimes like foreclosure fraud and the wall street fraud then they don't press charges because 'they might find the culprit'.

      It's very simple: there's one set of rules for the peasants and another set of rules for the aristocracy.

      Guess which group you fall into?

  • by vadim_t (324782) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:32AM (#34072954) Homepage

    1. Haul 6 year old girl into the court.
    2. ???
    3. Justice!

    It's bizarre. If they judge her, then what?

    She can't be sent to prison, has no income to pay a fine, and I doubt very much she can be made to perform community service. So I'm just wondering.

    Also, there's this:

    Wooten also disagreed with the lawyer's assertion that Juliet Breitman should not be held responsible because her mother was supervising the children at the time.
    "A parent's presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across a street," Wooten wrote. He added that "the term 'supervising' is too vague to hold meaning here."

    But running around is what 4 year old children do. I think pretty much everybody has noticed that young children have some problems with fine motor control and are ocassionally running into people while playing. They're children, they haven't completely figured it yet. What are the parents supposed to do, keep them on a leash?

  • by xh3g (213494) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:37AM (#34072988)

    It's shit like this, America.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OhPlz (168413)

      Shit like what? A lady died. I don't think it's completely insane for the family of the victim to want to be heard in court. They lost a loved one. The kid and the parents just have to appear and account for their actions. I know I'd be a bit fed up if I lost someone and it was quickly dismissed as being just something that happens. It's not like the courts are going to send the kid to prison, and I doubt there will be any significant financial penalty. Yes, people get absurd amounts of money for stu

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Shit like what? A lady died. I don't think it's completely insane for the family of the victim to want to be heard in court. They lost a loved one. The kid and the parents just have to appear and account for their actions.

        It was an accident. Accidents happen. If someone dies, that's awful, but it's still an accident. If you start to sue any child that somehow harmed someone else, parents would have to start leashing their kids as soon as they leave the house (and use a short leash). For some reason that's not the society I'd want to live in.

        It makes for a disturbing headline, but logically I think it makes perfect sense.

        If the goal of the legal system is to make as much money as possible out of it, then yes, it is a logical decision. Also, it's exactly what's wrong with the system.

      • by fantomas (94850) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @12:35PM (#34073912)

        I think it's completely insane for the family of the victim to want to be heard in court. In most countries this would be ruled as an accident, regrettable but nevertheless an accident between a small child not completely in control of their actions and an elderly person less aware and agile than a typical 40 year old. The media around the world is laughing at the USA right now, go and do an internet search to see the kind of reactions that are being published.

        Do the majority of Americans believe a costly court case is the only way to find out all the facts and reach some resolution after such an unhappy accident? I think people are suprised in many countries that in the USA the resolution of a sad accident is not solved through the two families talking after a coroner has defined the facts, perhaps arbitrated by a counsellor, but that the victim's family is claiming that emotional laying to rest can only be achieved by sueing a pre-school child in court.

        In most countries I think the police and legal authorities would rule that cause of death was an unfortunate coming together of circumstances, and probably there would be an opportunity for the victim's family to meet the child's parents. Child's parents would be terribly upset and offer sincere apologies, maybe ask the child to apologise, victim's family would probably be distraught but recognise that very sad accidents happen and accept apologies and understand that things happen that we can't control. Both families would probably agree that the small child was not an intentional murderer, not evil at heart, and agree that a small child shouldn't be traumatised or penalised for life for an accidental action so try to impress upon the child that you must be careful in what you do, but not load the kid with massive guilt complexes.

        Meanwhile in the USA the victim's family wants to go to court and sue a pre-school child for millions.

        Seems like you're moving back to a pre-20th century era when children were considered small adults with the same rights and responsibilities. Progress in science has proved that children are biologically as well as experientially unable to make the same level of decision making as adults and hence have to be treated differently. Their brains have not yet formed, they are simply not adults and cannot be considered accountable as an adult.

  • Mommy, I'm Bankwupt! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @10:48AM (#34073062) Journal

    "Here's my cwayons, my huggy bear, my Dora The Explorer backpack, my woller skates, and my puppie, Snookie. Datz all I have, Mam."

  • by Grond (15515) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @11:07AM (#34073200) Homepage

    First, this was a trial court ruling by a judge, not a justice. This did not create or modify precedent for other courts. In New York, unlike the rest of the US, the low-level trial courts are called Supreme Courts [wikipedia.org]. What the rest of us would think of as "The Supreme Court" is called the Court of Appeals [wikipedia.org]. Yes, it's very confusing.

    Second, this was a ruling on a motion to dismiss, not a ruling on the merits. This only says the child may be sued, not that the child is liable, nor even that the child (as opposed to the parents) would be made to pay anything. The parents are being sued as well; this is not some spiteful attack on the child in particular.

    Third, this is not surprising in the least from a legal perspective and relies upon well-settled legal principles. In general the law in the US does not recognize an absolute age limit to liability. For negligence, children are judged according to the standard of a reasonable child of that age (unless they are undertaking an adult activity such as driving a car). For a four year old, that's not saying much.

    Fourth, there's nothing uniquely American about this. Several European countries have similar or even harsher rules [udg.edu]. In France, for example, children are judged according to the same negligence standard as adults, which is much stricter than the US rule.

    • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @11:30AM (#34073398) Homepage

      Yup, I checked the rules here in Norway. Age of criminal responsibility is 15, but for negligence:

      1-1. (children's responsibility.)
                    Children and youth below 18 are liable for harm that they cause intentionally or negligently, as far as it seems reasonable taking their age, development, behavior, economic ability and other circumstances into consideration.

      1-2. (parent's responsbility)
                    1. Parents are liable for harm caused by children and youth under 18, as far as they have not given proper care or in other ways not have done what is reasonable under the circumstances to avoid damage.
                    2. Regardless of own guilt parents are liable for harm caused intentionally or negligently by their children and youth under 18 that they live with and have care for, with up to 5000 NOK (850 USD) per incident.

      There's no minimum age mentioned, now I think under no circumstances would anyone convict a four year old under 1-1, but if someone absolutely wanted to try it in court then there's no formal reason to dismiss it.

    • by jonpublic (676412) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @11:31AM (#34073412)

      The only useful post in this whole slew of comments.

      I find it hilarious that so many comments are all like, "ONLY IN AMERICA. OUR COUNTRY IS RETARDED, THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE LEGAL SYSTEM, etc"

      They are complaining about ignorance or perceived stupidity in society, only to be revealing their own lack of understanding of the situation. Of course I'm complaining about their own ignorance probably reveals my own. All this ignorance and complaining will probably create some sort of infinite loop or black hole where no sane discussion can escape. Ah slashdot.

  • Age of consent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Noitatsidem (1701520) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @11:21AM (#34073300)
    Does this mean 4 year olds have the right to consent? I mean, if they can be sued for their actions why the hell can't they be trusted to make their own?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Exactly, if 4 years olds are liable for potentially millions in medical bills if they hit some prehistoric old woman who should have died long ago anyway, then why can't I have sex with them? Her life would be fucked over either way, so what difference does it really make?
  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @11:37AM (#34073468)
    A mother in New York has successfully sued her newborn for failing to properly aligning himself for natural delivery, forcing a cesarean section. While compensatory damages are only $14,789, the woman is seeking $2,000,000 in putative damages for a future the humiliation at her spa and Bermuda resort. The baby has counter sued the mother for failing her lamaze class, seeking damages for in proper immunization from failure to emerge through the birth canal. More at 11.. Next, sperm sued for infertility!

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