Child Bicycle Accident Liability
Unfortunately, children are involved in a majority of bicycle accidents with automobiles. When it comes to children on bicycles, drivers are obligated to exercise an increased duty of care. While always required to exercise reasonable care regarding others on the road, the amount of care drivers must reasonably show increases when children, particularly young children, are involved. Likewise, children are held to a lower standard in terms of the carefulness they can be expected to show while riding bicycles.
Drivers' Increased Duty of Care around Children
In bicycle accident cases involving either adult or child bicyclists, the driver's liability most often depends on whether he or she was negligent, and whether that negligence caused the accident. Whether the cyclist was a child or an adult, the driver must exercise reasonable care in the given circumstances.
When children are present, the amount of care and precaution which is reasonable increases. For example, drivers should expect that particularly young children might suddenly cross into the street or get scared if the driver approaches too fast.
If a driver knows or reasonably should expect that children may be present, the driver must show increased care (sometimes called "unusual care"). If a driver sees children, or drives through a place often frequented by children, the driver must pay closer attention and be prepared to stop or turn suddenly if need be. Drivers must be on increased look-out when driving in or around schools, parks, school bus stops, residential neighborhoods, trailer parks and other places where children can be expected.
This does not mean that drivers are presumed negligent any time they collide with a child on a bicycle. In cases where the driver showed all the precaution which can be expected but still could not avoid the accident, the driver has satisfied the increased duty of care and should not be found negligent.
Children and Contributory Negligence in Bicycle Accidents
As in many types of injury cases, defendants in bicycle accident lawsuits often claim that the bicyclist's negligence (specifically, contributory or comparative negligence) caused or contributed to the accident. However, just as drivers are held to a higher standard when children are present, children on bicycles are often held to a lower standard.
State laws vary widely on whether and when children may be held responsible for contributing to the cause of accidents. Under the "tender years" doctrine, most jurisdictions hold that very young children (up to age four in many places) are incapable of contributory negligence because they are incapable of exercising care for their own safety or that of others. This applies to child bicycle accident cases, meaning that a driver found negligent may not argue that contributory negligence by such a young child caused the accident.
Between the "tender years" and early teenage years (often from four to fourteen), many states apply a presumption that the child is incapable of contributory negligence. A defendant can rebut this assumption, but must prove that under the circumstances in question, the child was capable of exercising care for his or her own safety.