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Law School Case Brief

Boyer v. Johnson - 360 So. 2d 1164 (La. 1978)

Rule:

Persons who employ children to work in or about dangerous machinery, especially where such employment is proscribed by law, must anticipate that children will exercise only such judgment and discretion as will ordinarily be exercised by children of like age under similar circumstances but the employer may avoid liability by instructing and informing the child about and against the dangers incident to the employment.

Where the purpose of a statute is to protect a minor against the risk of his own negligence, the general rule is that the minor's contributory negligence or assumption of risk will not defeat recovery for his injury or death, the very risk and harm the statute was designed to prevent.

Facts:

The employer-defendant Joe Johnson hired Johnny Boyer Jr., (Junior) a 15-year-old boy, to drive in various cities a commercial vehicle filled with fireworks in violation of several child labor laws. Defendant Johnson employed Junior after ascertaining that he had a driver's license. He rode with Junior in the delivery truck for two days to supervise him and observe his ability to drive. Junior was killed when he lost control of the vehicle. Plaintiff Johnny Boyer, Junior's father, sues for damages suffered on account of his son's death. The trial court and the appellate court dismissed the action. Boyer appealed.

Issue:

Was the employer liable for the injury sustained by a minor who was employed in violation of child labor laws prohibiting the employment of children as drivers of commercial motor vehicles or for work in connection with power-driven machinery?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that employer Johnson had a legal duty not to hire Junior, a minor, to deliver fireworks in a commercial vehicle. Johnson's violation of the child labor laws was the cause-in-fact of the fatal accident. The lower courts erred in determining that the employer's hiring the minor to drive the commercial truck did not impose civil liability for the minor's resulting death. The purpose of the laws prohibiting employing minors from driving commercial trucks or from operating power-driven machinery was to protect minors from accidents that occur while operating such machinery. Further, the minor Boyer’s contributory negligence did not prevent recovery because employer Johnson, who violated the child labor laws which were to protect the minor from his own youth, inexperience, and relative lack of judgment, could not assert that such defects in the minor's character caused the accident. The Court reversed the judgment of the appellate court.

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