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Standard of Care for Minors after an Injury Accident

Updated: Jul 24, 2021

Undeniably, children are treated differently under the law than adults. This is true both in the criminal courts, as well as the civil courts. In previous posts, we discussed the legal requirements one must satisfy in order to prevail on a negligence cause of action (see Injury Accident Cause of Action? Negligence).  Developing this understanding further, a separate or additional inquiry must be made by the trier of fact (i.e., the judge or jury) into the appropriate standard of care by the at-fault party if the at-fault party is a minor. Following some sort of personal injury claim (but not a claim arising from a motorcycle accident or other auto accident, because 16 year old drivers, while technically minors, are held to the same standard of care as adult drivers (see Prichard v. Veterans Cab Co. (1965) ), where the at-fault party is under 18 years of age, and the injury causing act is not intentional, the trier of fact must determine if the actions of the minor who caused the injuries resulted from a deviation from the standard of care that the law expects of that minor. If so, the minor will be responsible for the accident. If not, the minor will not be liable, whereas an adult, with all things being equal, would be liable. According to California Civil Jury Instructions 402, “[Name of plaintiff/defendant] is a child who was [number] years old at the time of the incident. Children are not held to the same standards of behavior as adults. A child is required to use the amount of care that a reasonably careful child of the same age, intelligence, knowledge, and experience would use in that same situation.” Child behavior is judged against other childhood behavior, which is a reflection of the child’s surroundings and physical traits. If a child violated a statute and a negligence per se cause of action was pursued by the personal injury victim, the presumption of negligence “may be rebutted by a showing that the child, in spite of the violation of the statute, exercised the care that children of his maturity, intelligence and capacity ordinarily exercise under similar circumstances.” (Daun v. Truax (1961) 56 Cal.2d 647, 655.) (see Proving a Negligence Per Se Cause of Action in a Personal Injury Accident). So, is there an age where the child can escape complete liability for his otherwise negligent acts? Absolutely. The court in Christian v. Goodwin [ (1961) 188 Cal.App.2d 650, 655] found that children under the age of 5 are incapable of negligence and as such, no such claim can be brought against them. If you have been the victim of an injury accident and need to speak with an experienced auto accident attorney, contact us today for a free consultation.

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