Courts in other jurisdictions have created an exception to the special child standard because of the apparent injustice that would occur if a child who caused injury while engaged in certain dangerous activities were permitted to defend himself by saying that other children similarly situated would not have exercised a degree of care higher than his, and he is, therefore, not liable for his tort. Some courts have couched the exception in terms of children engaging in an activity which is normally one for adults only. The State of Washington Supreme Court believes a better rationale is that when the activity a child engages in is inherently dangerous, as is the operation of powerful mechanized vehicles, the child should be held to an adult standard of care.
Plaintiff was injured in a snowmobile accident and sued defendant, the thirteen-year old driver of the snowmobile. Trial court instructed the jury that, in considering the claimed negligence of a child, it was the duty of that child to exercise the same care that a reasonably careful child of same age, intelligence, maturity, training, and experience would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. Verdict was returned for defendant and plaintiff sought a new trial, arguing that the trial judge erred in failing to instruct the jury on an adult standard of care. The trial court agreed and ordered a new trial. The order was affirmed by the intermediate court on appeal. Defendant appealed to the highest court in the state.
Should a minor operating a snowmobile is to be held to an adult standard of care?
The court affirmed the lower court's holdings, stating that because defendant had engaged in the inherently dangerous activity of the operation of a snowmobile, he should have been held to an adult standard of care. The operation of a snowmobile likewise requires adult care and competence. At the time of the accident, the 13-year-old petitioner had operated snowmobiles for about 2 years. When the injury occurred, petitioner was operating a 30-horsepower snowmobile at speeds of 10 to 20 miles per hour. The record indicates that the machine itself was capable of 65 miles per hour. Because petitioner was operating a powerful motorized vehicle, he should be held to the standard of care and conduct expected of an adult.