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Road Rights- Child's Play?

Believe it or not, even young kids can be held liable in court for cycling accidents. Here’s what you should know.

by Bob Mionske

Last fall, you may have heard about a preschool girl who was sued for negligence. This case out of New York City began with a bike race between four-year-old Juliet and her five-year-old friend Jacob on a Manhattan sidewalk. As their mothers stood watch, the children accidentally collided with 87-year-old Claire Menagh and knocked her down. Menagh’s hip was broken in the fall; three months later, she died of unrelated causes.

Two years after the accident, Menagh’s estate filed suit against the two mothers–and the children themselves. Juliet’s attorney attempted to have the lawsuit against her thrown out but was unsucessful: In New York, the law allows anyone age four or older to be sued for negligence. This is not the case everywhere. Laws in some states hold that children under the age of seven cannot be sued. If Juliet had crashed into Menagh in Illinois, the estate would have been able to file suit only against Juliet’s mother.

Still, why would somebody sue a young child? Menagh’s estate was going after compensation from the parents’ insurance policies (either their homeowner’s or their renter’s), not the kids’ piggy banks, and suing Juliet and Jacob was another attempt to achieve that outcome. It’s like applying for more than one job–you’re increasing your chances of getting the result you want.

Even if a child can be sued, the courts rarely hold kids to an adult standard of behavior when determining liability. Instead, the child is held to a standard that is appropriate for that youngster’s age, intelligence, maturity, and experience. Even so, it’s obviously best to try to prevent accidents in the first place. The tips on this page will help you and your child ride more safely.



SAFETY CHECK

Teaching someone to ride? Here’s what proper beginner-bike setup looks like.

Helmet is level; front is low enough to be visible to the rider

Feet flat on the ground (raise the seat as the cyclist’s coordination improves)

Strap is snug enough to allow one finger to fit between strap and skin

IF THE BIKE HAS…

Brake levers: Adjust them to fit rider’s hands

Quick-releases: Close them tightly

 

THREE TIPS FOR CRASH-FREE RIDES

Buy A Bike That Fits

Don’t get one that your child will “grow into”–a frame that’s too big will be harder to control. (See Safety Check, above, for a guide to proper bike fit.)

Play Games

Bike-handling exercises–trying to stop before hitting a chalk line, weaving around cones, riding along a parking-lot paint stripe–will improve your kid’s cycling skills.

Teach Who Has The Right Of Way

Remind your kids it’s their responsibility to avoid pedestrians–whether they’re on the road, sidewalk, path or playground.



Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, J.D.

This article, Child's Play?, was originally published on Bicycling on May 25, 2011.

Now read the fine print:
Bicycle and the Law, Bob MionskeBob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske's practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.
 
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to mionskelaw@hotmail.com Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.
Important notice:
The information provided in the "Road Rights" column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.

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