Can children under the age of 18 be “negligent”? Recall that negligence is the failure to exercise ordinary care for the safety of others. Well, the answer is: It depends how old the minor is. Infants under seven years of age are “incapable of negligence”; children between 7 and 14 are presumed to be incapable of negligence, but the presumption can be rebutted by showing that the child is of sufficient maturity and capacity to avoid danger and make intelligent judgments with regard to the activity in which s/he had engaged; children 14 and older are capable of negligence, but the issue must be determined by the jury.
If you’re interested in reading more, the key Ohio court cases are:
Holbrock v. Hamilton Distributing, Inc., 11 Ohio St.2d 185 (1967)
DeLuca v. Bowden, 42 Ohio St.2d 392 (1975)
Foulke v. Beogher, 2006-Ohio-1411 (Dist. 3, 2006):
A child between seven and 14 years of age is presumed to be incapable of negligence. Franks v. Venturella, (Dist. 3, 2000). Nevertheless, a party may rebut that presumption by demonstrating that “the child is of sufficient maturity and capacity to avoid danger and make intelligent judgments with regard to the particular activity in which he had engaged.”
Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. v. Corrigan, 46 Ohio St. 283 (1889):
In the application of the doctrine of contributory negligence to children, in actions by them, or in their behalf, for injuries occasioned by the negligence of others, their conduct should not be judged by the same rule which governs that of adults: and, while it is their duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid the injuries of which they complain, ordinary care for them is that degree of care which children of the same age, of ordinary care and prudence, are accustomed to exercise under similar circumstances.
Lake Erie & Western R.R. Co. v. Mackey, 53 Ohio St. 370 (1895) (a presumption of negligence “will not be visited upon children under the age of 14”). This “presumption” mentioned in some court of appeals cases may not be as clear as they say. Some of these are very old cases and the language is difficult to interpret.