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.
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.)
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.