Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Criminalization of Childhood

4-Year-Old Can Be Sued, Judge Rules:

The suit that Justice Wooten allowed to proceed claims that in April 2009, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, who were both 4, were racing their bicycles, under the supervision of their mothers, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn, on the sidewalk of a building on East 52nd Street. At some point in the race, they struck an 87-year-old woman named Claire Menagh, who was walking in front of the building and, according to the complaint, was “seriously and severely injured,” suffering a hip fracture that required surgery. She died three months later of unrelated causes.

Her estate sued the children and their mothers, claiming they had acted negligently during the accident.
I'd insert one of my cryptic LMAO's here, except for the fact that this estate is serious: they actually sued a group of 4-year-old's on training wheels. And somehow, they snowed a judge into buying their argument. Check out the "justice's" reasoning:

[The girl's lawyer] had also argued that Juliet should not be held liable because her mother was present; Justice Wooten disagreed.

“A parent’s presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across a street,” the judge wrote. He added that any “reasonably prudent child,” who presumably has been told to look both ways before crossing a street, should know that dashing out without looking is dangerous, with or without a parent there. The crucial factor is whether the parent encourages the risky behavior; if so, the child should not be held accountable.

In Ms. Menagh’s case, however, there was nothing to indicate that Juliet’s mother “had any active role in the alleged incident, only that the mother was ‘supervising,’ a term that is too vague to hold meaning here,” he wrote. He concluded that there was no evidence of Juliet’s “lack of intelligence or maturity” or anything to “indicate that another child of similar age and capacity under the circumstances could not have reasonably appreciated the danger of riding a bicycle into an elderly woman.”

Sorry, but that does call for LMAO. A 4 year old, being "reasonably prudent"? Presuming a 4 year-old understands that "dashing out in the street without looking is dangerous"? Has this judge ever had kids, or worse, did he consult with child psychologists first (any number of whom can tell you that a 4 year old lacks the mens rea necessary for culpability, negligence or criminal)?

No, sanity has nothing to do with this ruling. What this represents (beyond the appalling, hyper-litigious behavior of the old woman's estate for suing a gaggle of 4 year-old's) is the decades old notion that children are miniature adults, and that children must be held to the same legal standards, civil or criminal, that adults are.

Implicit in the judges ruling is the following: maybe we can send a message with this case; maybe this will teach them 4 year-old's on training wheels a lesson; you can't just do whatevernthehell you want; there are consequences for your childish rambunctiousness; you're gonna pay.

In the literature, this is also referred to as criminalizing childhood.

Funny, but when my kids were on training wheels, it never occurred to me they might have to lawyer-up first. Guess they got lucky.

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