Are Children Protected Against Negligence Lawsuits?

Okay, so you’re joyously riding your bike down the street when a four-year old – little Angela – pulls the trigger on a BB gun, which fires a BB into the street. She found the gun abandoned in a dumpster while she had been on a walk earlier that day with her dog, Shaggy. The BB hits you, and you crash. Your medical bills are over $5,000.

Can you sue Angela for negligence?

The Utah Supreme Court just issued a ruling that makes the little Angelas of the world much more protected against negligence lawsuits.

The Court said, “We conclude that the instances where it would be appropriate to hold a child under the age of five liable for negligence would be rare enough that the social costs of conducting an individualized inquiry [as to whether the particular kid being sued was much smarter than other kids younger than five] are not justified.”

And, really smart ten-year-olds won’t be getting a driver’s license either. We have to draw a line somewhere.

The Court also said that people involved in lawsuits should know what to expect from the Courts and the law. Then, they stated that the Utah Supreme Court had the obligation “to consider the propriety of subjecting children of tender years to tort liability, or, when they are plaintiffs, denying them recovery for the negligence of others.” After all, do we really want Angela to go through the trauma of having her deposition taken?

Just imagine:

Plaintiff: Angela, why did you shoot that gun?

Angela: Did you know that mom bought me a new pack of markers yesterday?

Plaintiff: Just answer the question, please.

Angela: They are really nice. They are nicer than Becky’s. Hers are all dried out.

Plaintiff: Is this a joke to you, little girl?

Angela: Knock knock.

Plaintiff: I am not playing that game, young lady.

Angela: What were you eating under there?

Plaintiff: Under where?

Angela: Ba ha ha ha ha ha!

How did the Court rule? Well, that Angela is typically going to be safe – at least until she turns five. In other words, the Court adopted a legal rule that children under the age of five may not be held liable for negligence.

So, what if your child is older than five? Well, that’s an open question. The question of whether a child five or over is capable of negligence is reserved for the jury.

Nielsen ex rel. C.N. v. Bell ex rel. B.B., 2016 UT 14, ¶¶ 21-22, 370 P.3d 925, 929

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