Understanding Negligence

What is negligence? Simply put, negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care. A person is negligent if he or she fails to act as an ordinarily prudent person would in similar circumstances. Negligence may consist of action or inaction.

There are 4 basic components of actionable negligence:

  1. The defendant had a duty to exercise reasonable care (Duty);
  2. The defendant breached that duty(Breach);
  3. The breach of the duty caused damages to another(Causation);
  4. The plaintiff suffered injury(Damages).

How Old Must One Be to Be Considered Negligent?

In both civil and criminal matters, competent adults have the capacity to be negligent. However, labeling a child’s behavior as “negligent” deserves a more nuanced analysis. The general rule in Pennsylvania is that negligence does not apply to children under the age of seven years. As children under the age of seven are presumed incapable of negligence. Children between the ages of 7 and 14 years are presumed incapable of negligence. However, the presumption is rebuttable and weakens the more mature the child, and the closer the child is to age 14. Minors over the age of 14 are considered capable of negligence. However, the presumption is rebuttable, depending on the circumstances.

The following are some examples. A three-year-old may not be deemed contributorily or comparatively negligent, should he or she run directly into traffic, without looking, and be struck by a car.  A child aged 12, who runs in front of a speeding car, is deemed incapable of negligence. However, if the child is particularly mature, or is in “gifted” classes, the presumption that the child could not be capable of bearing fault for his or her injury may be rebutted. In addition, some children at the age of 12 are cognizant of dangers, while others at that age must be reminded repeatedly to be careful. Lastly, a young adult aged 16 who is texting while driving, and causes an accident, is capable of negligence. For additional examples on this issue, please visit Lawshelf.com.

Negligence and The Teenager’s Brain

Teenagers often make choices based on emotion, instead of logic.

It is interesting that children over the age of 14 are normally considered capable of negligence. At what age does a child have the self-awareness to realize the consequences of his or her actions? This makes one consider the brain’s role in the decision-making process. The development and growth of one’s brain isn’t completely mature until one’s early 20’s, and possibly beyond. Research in recent years has offered some interesting facts as to how the teenage brain works. The part of the brain responsible for emotional reasoning, the limbic system, develops more quickly. The logical part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is the portion of the brain responsible for reasoning, matures later. When teens make choices in emotionally charged situations, those choices are often more weighted in feelings (the mature limbic system) over logic (the not-yet-mature prefrontal cortex).

Your Thoughts on Negligence

What do you think? Should this biological fact serve to absolve young teens from careless behavior?

With more than 100 years of combined legal practice experience, the lawyers of Noel & Bonebrake can help. Scott Bonebrake has handled hundreds of cases involving negligence for both plaintiffs and defendants. Contact the law offices of Noel & Bonebrake today!