Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Utah issued an opinion in an interesting case considering the age at which young children can be held legally responsible for their own negligent actions. In the case, Neilsen v. Bell, the court was not provided the opportunity to consider whether the parents were liable, and it had to look solely at the individual liability of the young child.
The Facts of the Case
The case arose when the Bells’ four-year-old son injured his babysitter. According to the court’s written opinion, Neilsen was the woman the Bells chose to watch their son while they were away. On the day of the incident, the four-year-old boy threw a toy at Neilsen’s face, striking her in the eye. This ultimately caused her to completely lose sight in that eye.
Neilsen filed a lawsuit against the boy and his parents. The first claim alleged that the parents were negligent in their supervision of the child. This claim failed in the lower court, most likely since the child was in the plaintiff’s control at the time of the incident, and she agreed to assume care of the boy.
Neilsen’s second claim was against the boy in his individual capacity. She alleged that he was negligent in throwing the toy at her face, and that he should be held responsible as a result. The Bells defended the lawsuit against their son, since they would ultimately be the ones held financially responsible.
At trial, the Bells argued that the case should be dismissed because there is no way that a four-year-old boy can be negligent under the law. They pointed to other jurisdictions’ rules, claiming that as a matter of law no child under seven should ever be held liable for their negligent actions. Neilsen responded that the issue should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and no bright-line rule was necessary.
The lower court determined that a jury may well find that the boy was negligent, and it denied the Bells’ motion to dismiss. They appealed to a higher court. On appeal, the case was reversed. The court again looked at other jurisdictions and determined that it would establish a bright-line rule that no child under the age of five could be held negligent for their actions. Importantly, this case was unique in that it did not discuss whether the parents of young children could be held negligent under alternate legal theories.
Have You Been Injured by a Minor’s Negligent Actions?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an accident involving a minor, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. While this case did not work out as the plaintiff had planned, it presented an unusual set of facts not present in most cases. If a minor driver negligently causes an accident, they or their parents will likely be held responsible. Call the Indiana personal injury law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse today to set up a free consultation to discuss your case with a skilled attorney.
Court Upholds Jury’s Zero-Dollar Verdict in Personal Injury Case, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, March 9, 2016
Recent Appellate Court Opinion Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Road Rage Case, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, April 1, 2016