There’s been a lot of hullabaloo over a Manhattan court ruling last week that a 4-year-old girl will be held liable and sued for negligence for hitting an elderly woman with her bike. Regardless of what you think of the ruling, the case begs the question: Should we do more to supervise our kids on the sidewalks of South Brooklyn?
I’ve got a 4-year-old myself. She loves nothing more than to tear down the sidewalk on her scooter and peddle-less bike. I’ve worked hard to teach her to respect the humans and animals around her (We share the sidewalk! It does not belong to you!). But just yesterday, she was jerking her scooter around on Hoyt Street, half a block in front of me, as I trotted along in back. She rode up on a teen’s shins, then cut in front of an elderly woman walking slowly. I was horrified. The woman easily could have fallen.
In the Manhattan case, Justice Paul Wooten of State Supreme Court permitted a lawsuit to move forward against a girl and a boy who were racing their training-wheeled bikes, under the supervision of their mothers, on East 52nd Street, when they hit an 87-year-old, reported The New York Times. They severely injured the woman, and she ended up dying three months later from an unrelated cause, the Times reported. The woman’s family sued the kids, who were 4 and 5 at the time. Apparently, a child under the age of 5 cannot be held held liable. But the girl was three months shy of 5, and so the judge ruled she can be sued for negligence, the Times reported.
The case should give us pause.
South Brooklyn is crawling with kids more than ever. We’ve also got our share of older folks, infirm, people who can’t hop around quickly to avoid a small speed-racer.
Some Carroll Gardens residents recently brought the issue up at a police community meeting.
“It’s an issue,” said Lou Femenella, who raised his kids, 29 and 16, in Manhattan before moving with them here 11 years ago. “It should be brought to the public’s attention. It seems to be common practice for kids to ride on sidewalks, and it shouldn’t be that way. It’s kind of an epidemic. Parents feel they have entitlement.”
Lou was feeling emotional about it, because his wife was almost knocked over recently by two small children, one on a scooter and the other on a small bike.
“They think they have the right of way,” Femenella said. “They tear down the sidewalk, oblivious to pedestrians. And the parents just let the kids go. I always told my kids, ‘You do not have the right of way on the sidewalk.’”
So, should a child be held liable in the courts if they hit an adult? Seems crazy. But I do know one thing: I would not want to be the parent paying off the lawsuit for the child who hits the elderly person on the sidewalk.