Occasionally, children or young adults can act in ways that unintentionally cause injuries to themselves or to others. This can happen in two ways:
- The minor can behave negligently and hurt someone else, or
- The minor can get hurt because they were behaving negligently.
If they were an adult, they would be liable for the damages they caused. Because they were underage, though, that would be unfair. Minors, after all, should be expected to behave in ways that fall short of what we would expect from adults.
Here is how Missouri’s personal injury law handles this situation.
Minors are Compared to Other, Similarly Situated Minors for Negligence Purposes in Missouri
When determining whether an adult behaved negligently and should be held liable for an accident, Missouri law asks whether they “acted like a reasonably prudent person.”
Because minors cannot be expected to meet the expectations that are held for adults, they get their own rules under personal injury law.
In Missouri, the rule that has been adopted is the so-called “subjective rule.” Minors in the state are held “in relation to the expectations held for other children in the same or similar circumstances.” Those are children “of the same or similar age, judgment, and experience.”
This rule was handed down by the Supreme Court of Missouri in the 1993 case Lester v. Sayles. In that case, a four-year-old girl crossed the street to play in the water from an opened fire hydrant and was run over by a truck. A question that was raised on appeal was whether the girl’s comparative fault should reduce the judgment against the driver.
In theory, this produces justifiable results that take the maturity and responsibility of each child as he or she comes. In practice, though, it means that Missouri’s personal injury law nearly always punts the issue to the jury to decide, as the court did in Lester. The only exceptions are when the child was either so young or so mature that the answer is obvious. Unfortunately, this prolongs personal injury claims involving minors. It also makes jurors grapple with what a “similar” child should have done which, arguably, is impossible to comprehend.
Other States Use Stricter Rules
While Missouri’s rule regarding the negligence of minors puts a lot of responsibility on the jury to determine what a “similar” child should have done, other states use bright-line rules that settle the issue before trial.
The most common of these is the “rule of sevens.” Under this rule, children under the age of seven cannot be negligent. Those between seven and fourteen are presumed to be incapable of negligence. Those fourteen and older are presumed to be capable of negligence like an adult.
Other states use similar rules, with slight variations in the child’s age.
Missouri Personal Injury Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
The personal injury and car accident lawyers at the Smith Law Office help accident victims recover what they deserve, including in accidents that involved a minor. In our next blog post about personal injury law, we will cover what happens when a child deliberately hurts you or damages your property.
Contact us online or call our law office at (816) 875-9373 for help in St. Joseph, Springfield, Kansas City, or the rest of western Missouri.