Earlier last month, the Supreme Court of Utah issued a written opinion regarding whether a four-year-old child could be held liable for his own negligent actions. In the case, Nielsen v. Bell, the court ultimately concluded that a four-year-old child cannot, as a matter of law, be found negligent for his own actions. Only children above the age of five are capable of negligence under the state’s law.
Neilsen was babysitting the Bell’s four-year-old son. At some point during the parents’ absence, the young boy picked up a plastic toy dolphin and threw it at Neilsen’s face. The toy struck her in the eye, and she ultimately lost all vision in that eye. Neilsen filed a lawsuit against the Bells, alleging two theories. First, she claimed that the Bells themselves were liable under the theory of negligent supervision. Second, she claimed that their son was individually liable to her under the theory of negligence.
The court hearing the case dismissed the negligent supervision claim, finding that there was insufficient evidence to submit the claim to a jury. However, the court did allow the case to proceed against the young boy on the theory of negligence. The Bells filed an immediate appeal to a higher court to review the decision.
The Appellate Court’s Decision
The Utah Supreme Court had not had the occasion to determine whether young children could be held independently liable for their negligent actions. The plaintiff in the case argued that the court should not adopt a per se rule regarding the age at which a child can be held liable, but it should look at each case individually. The parents of the young boy, however, argued that any child under the age of five should not be able to be held legally liable for their actions in a personal injury lawsuit.
In addition to the arguments of counsel, the court considered the law in other jurisdictions, weighing the arguments on both sides. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff’s position was untenable and that the defendants’ position was more in line with the state’s previous decisions. Thus, the court adopted the rule that children under the age of five cannot be held liable for their own actions.
Have You Been Injured by the Negligent Acts of a Child?
If you have been injured by the negligent or reckless acts of a minor, you may be entitled to monetary compensation, even if the minor’s parents dispute liability. In New Mexico, there are a number of situations in which a minor’s acts can be attributable to his or her parents. And in some cases, the minor may be individually liable. To learn more about the laws in New Mexico that allow for accident victims to recover for their injuries, call the Fine Law Firm at 505-889-FINE to set up a free consultation. Calling is free and will not result any any obligation on your part unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.
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Court Holds City Employee Not Entitled to Immunity in Premises Liability Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 7, 2016.
FDA Issues a “Black Box” Warning for Birth-Control Device Essure, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, March 17, 2016.