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When measuring the conduct of children, courts depart from the well-known objective test of the care of a reasonable and prudent man, the test generally utilized to judge adult behavior, and make allowance for immaturity. A child is held to that measure of care that other minors of like age, experience, capacity and development would ordinarily exercise under similar circumstances. The application of this standard is clarified by the use of several presumptions delineating convenient points to aid in drawing the uncertain line between capacity to appreciate and guard against danger and incapacity, minors under the age of 7 years are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence, minors between the ages of 7 and 14 years are presumed incapable of negligence, but the presumption is a rebuttable one that weakens as the 14th year is approached, minors over the age of 14 years are presumptively capable of negligence, with the burden placed on the minor to prove incapacity.
Appellants take this appeal from an order of the court of common pleas en banc granting appellees' motion for summary judgment. The complaint alleged a cause of action in trespass for injuries to the minor-plaintiff, six years and two weeks old at the time of the accident, caused by the negligent swinging of a wooden stick by the minor-defendant, five years and seven months old at the time. The court granted summary judgment on the ground that the minor-defendant was under the age of seven years and, therefore, conclusively presumed incapable of negligence. Appellants contend that a minor of over five years of age is capable of actionable negligence and that this case should have proceeded to trial to allow a jury to apply the appropriate standard of care and decide the issue of negligence.
Did the trial court err in granting summary judgment on the ground that the minor-defendant was under the age of seven years and, therefore, conclusively presumed incapable of negligence?
The court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment and concluded that recognizing a conclusive presumption of incapability of negligence and finding the essential facts not in dispute, appellants were not entitled to relief. The court stated that although the obligation to use reasonable care extended to both adults and minors, a child was held to that measure of care that other minors of like age, experience, capacity, and development would ordinarily exercise under similar circumstances. The court stated minors under the age of seven years were conclusively presumed incapable of negligence. The court held that the condition of immaturity was equally applicable to the acts of the child regardless of whether he was labeled plaintiff or defendant, and in either case the same standard was applied.