How Do Child Pedestrian Injury Cases Differ From Adult Pedestrian Cases?
Since children cannot represent themselves in court, a guardian—usually a close family member—would sue or defend the claim on the child’s behalf. Beyond this procedural difference, there are several important factors to consider in a personal injury lawsuit involving a child pedestrian.
If you get into an accident with a pedestrian of any age, your liability will depend on whether you or the pedestrian were negligent. Specifically, a court would consider you to be negligent if you breached your duty of ordinary care, and this breach proximately caused the pedestrian’s injuries.
The Duty of Care Owed to Children is Higher
The duty of care is a legal concept that outlines how a person should act in a given situation. If you’re reading this article at home while sitting at your computer, your duty of care is very low. This is because your actions are not likely to result in injuries to others.
When you are driving your car on the roadway, however, and your carelessness could result in injuries, you have a heightened duty of care. In this case, you must obey all traffic laws, be aware, and adjust your driving to the road, traffic, and weather conditions.
Your duty of care is perhaps at its highest when driving or operating machinery around children. Since everyone knows that children are often unaware of their environment and can behave impulsively, we have a duty to exercise extreme care when driving in places where children could be present, such as schools and parks.
For example, courts have held drivers liable for negligently hitting children in front of schools—even when the drivers were respecting the speed limit. This is because drivers are under the duty to use extreme caution in a place where it’s foreseeable that children could run into the road. Obeying the speed limit and other traffic rules is not necessarily proof of exercising this heightened duty of care.
Children Are Rarely Contributorily Negligent
If a plaintiff sues you for negligence, you can counter claim that the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to the accident. While this strategy often works when defending against adult plaintiffs, it is particularly difficult to use it against children.
The reason is that children have a duty of care, but it is lower than an adult’s duty. Obviously, children are less responsible than adults, so courts do not hold them to an adult standard of conduct.
In most jurisdictions, courts expect children to display behavior that is reasonable for a child of similar age, experience, and intelligence under like circumstances.
If you want to show that a child has breached this duty of care, you would need to show that he or she acted less responsibly than one would expect for a child of similar age. For example, if a 14-year-old boy runs in front of your car in pursuit of a ball, a court might find him to have breached his duty of care, since that behavior corresponds to that displayed by younger children. A teenager is expected to act somewhat more responsibly than a child.
But in most cases, children act just as irresponsibly as one would expect for their age, so it can be difficult to prove their behavior constituted a breach of duty.