In April 2009, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, who were both 4 years old, were riding the bikes, equipped with training wheels, down the sidewalk on East 52nd Street. Their mothers were with them, but they didn't stop Juliet from knocking over 87-year-old Claire Menagh, who suffered a fractured hip and died after surgery three weeks later. A hell of a way to go, but there may be justice (for Menagh's estate) yet: This week a judge ruled that her estate could sue Juliet, who is now six and might want to think about opening an upscale lemonade stand.
Juliet's lawyer claims she was too young to be held liable for negligence and was not "engaged in an adult activity" at the time of the accident. "She was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother," her attorney argues. "Courts have held that an infant under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence." But Judge Paul Wooten ruled that the case could proceed, because Juliet was three months shy of turning 5. "While the defense unconvincingly seeks to compare this almost five-year-old defendant to a child between the ages of three and four, the Court of Appeals has explained that for an almost five-year-old child, there is no bright line test," Wooten ruled.
And Juliet doesn't get off the hook just because Mommy was there. "A parent's presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across the street. A reasonably prudent child, whom we may presume has been told repeatedly by the age of four to look both ways before crossing a street, knows that running across a street is dangerous even if there is a parent nearby." And furthermore! The defense failed to prove any "lack of intelligence or maturity" or anything to "indicate that another child of similar age and capacity under the circumstances could not have reasonably appreciated the danger of riding a bicycle into an elderly woman."
So consider yourself on notice, kids. Couldn't hurt to invest some of that birthday money into a legal defense fund. And with the city's crackdown on scofflaw cyclists in full swing, it couldn't hurt to set a couple hundred bucks aside to cover summonses, too.