Robinson v. Lindsay
92 Wash.2d 410, 598 P.2d 392 (1979)

  • Robinson, who was 11 years old, was injured while riding a snowmobile driven by Anderson, who was only 13 years old. Robinson sued for the tort of negligence.
  • The Trial Court found for Anderson.
    • According to Washington State law at the time, it is the duty of a minor to exercise the same care as reasonably careful child would exercise.
    • The Trial Court decided that this was incorrect, and that Anderson should have been held to an adult standard of care. However, they recognized that they had failed to instruct the jury as to what they considered the required standard of care.
  • The Trial Court ordered a new trial, since they failed to instruct the jury properly. Anderson objected.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed the decision to grant a new trial.
    • The Appellate Court felt that when a child is engaged in an activity that is inherently dangerous, such as the operation of a motor vehicle, the child should be held to an adult standard of care.
  • One bonus to holding children to an adult standard of care is that most jurors are adults, so it’s easier for them to determine what a reasonable adult would do under similar circumstances.
  • Holding a child to an adult standard theoretically would discourage that child from engaging in dangerous activity.
    • But, do children actually worry about the legal details of tort liability?
  • What’s the point of suing a child? They don’t have any money.
    • Parents are almost never held liable for torts committed by their children.
      • Known as respondent superior, or vicarious liability.
    • However, insurance companies have money! You can recover damages from the parent’s liability insurance, which usually covers children at home.
      • Before the institution of liability insurance, there were almost never tort cases against children.