Did You Know: Your 6-Year-Old Can be Charged with Negligence

Washington State’s law regarding comparative fault applies to children as well as adults.

Accidents involving children raise questions of negligence, where a child may be found partially at fault. For children, however, the negligence standard is defined much more narrowly. The law states that only children ages six and above can be found negligent. A child younger than six does not have the necessary mental development to know to exercise ordinary care.

For children six and older, a child is negligent if he fails to exercise the ordinary care that a “reasonably careful child of the same age, intelligence, maturity, training, and experience” would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.

This is an important distinction. It means that a seven-year-old child cannot be judged according to the same standards that might apply to a 12-year old child. The standard of negligence for children is also based heavily on the child’s individual characteristics and traits. Conceivably, the actions of a special needs or mentally disabled child should only be judged based on the expected reasonable conduct by another child of the same age and/or intellectual capacity.

The same goes for children who may be advanced or highly functioning. Highly-achieving children with excellent grades should only be judged based on the expected actions of other children similarly
situated.

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