At first, the thought of an adult suing a child seems ridiculous and even petty, but there are cases where it may be warranted, especially in personal injury law.
Imagine you are walking through Central Park on a weekend afternoon, enjoying the fall weather. Suddenly a rock, thrown by a child who looks no older than 11, strikes you in the eye. All you know at the moment is that it hurts, but later on, your doctor tells you that you will need surgery to prevent your vision from being permanently impaired.
Negligent vs. Intentional Injuries
In New York, your next steps depend on the circumstances of the rock-throwing. Does the child-
- Look horrified and shout, “I’m sorry” or run in genuine fear?
- Start laughing and run off with his friends, shouting, “I got him!”
When a child injures you, your ability to sue for a personal injury depends on whether their conduct was negligent (he hit you by accident) or intentional (he deliberately threw it at you, knowing you could be hurt). While most states (New York included) allow you to sue a child or their parent or guardian for an intentional act, negligence can be trickier, but not impossible.
In October 2010, a NY State Supreme Court judge ruled that a girl who was a few months short of turning five could be sued for racing her bicycle with a friend along East 52nd Street and running into an 87-year-old woman, causing her to be seriously injured. The judge did not hold the girl to the same legal standard as an adult, but he did measure her actions against those expected of a reasonable child of comparable age, capacity, development, and experience.
While parents may not always be held liable for the negligent behavior of their children, malicious intent is different. If a child intended to cause harm, then their parents can be held responsible for the outcome.
Parental Responsibility Laws
Like most states, New York has a Parental Responsibility Law (NY General Obligations Law 3-112). This law holds parents financially responsible for injuries from their children between the ages of 10 and 18. Common law may also hold parents accountable if they have reason to know that their child engages in dangerous activities but do not prevent them from causing harm. For example, if they know that their teenager rarely looks in the rearview mirror while driving but give him access to the car anyway, then an injured person may have a claim against them.
Personal injury cases involving children are always complicated from a legal perspective, which is why you should consult a New York personal injury attorney before proceeding with a claim against a minor and their parents. An experienced attorney will advise you on the best way of obtaining compensation for your injuries. Jayson Lutzky handles personal injury and accident cases. He offers free in-person consultations to prospective clients. Call 718-329-9500 to set up an appointment. Home and hospital visits may be available in the event of a serious injury.