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Law School Case Brief

Bauman v. Crawford - 104 Wash. 2d 241, 704 P.2d 1181 (1985)


A minor's violation of a statute does not constitute proof of negligence per se, but may, in proper cases, be introduced as evidence of a minor's negligence.


Plaintiff D.T.B., a minor, was injured when the bicycle on which he was riding collided with an automobile that was being driven by defendant Robert S. Crawford. D.T.B. by his guardian ad litem, John H. Chapman, and Lydia Bauman, filed a lawsuit against Crawford in Washington state court seeking to recover damages for his injuries. Crawford answered the compliant with the affirmative defense of contributory negligence based on D.T.B.'s riding his bike in the dark without a headlight, contrary to Wash. Rev. Code § 46.61.780(1) and Seattle, Wa., Municipal Code 11.44.160. Among its instructions, the trial court instructed the jury that violation of an ordinance was negligence per se. The jury rendered a verdict of $ 8,000 for D.T.B., reduced by 95 percent for his contributory negligence. Thus, the final verdict was $ 400 for D.T.B. On D.T.B.'s appeal, the appellate court affirmed, rejecting D.T.B.'s argument that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that a minor in violation of a bicycle safety ordinance was negligent as a matter of law. D.T.B. appealed.


Was D.T.B.'s violation of the statute or ordinance proof of negligence per se?




The state supreme court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. The court ruled that D.T.B.'s violations of the state statute and local ordinance were not proof of negligence per se, but such violations were permissible evidence of D.T.B.'s negligence. The court found that the policies of the doctrine of negligence per se clashed with the policies of the special child's standard of care: a child's conduct was to be measured by the conduct of a reasonably careful child of the same age, intelligence, maturity, training and experience. The court overturned precedent to the degree that it was incompatible. The court remanded the matter for a new trial on the issue of liability under the proper jury instructions based on the child's special standard of care.

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