Unsupervised child runs into street, causing a fatal accident...

by Dana
(Allentown, NJ)

A parent is supposed to be watching her child, but instead is taking selfies and partying in her back yard. As a result, her child runs into the street and causes a car to swerve, resulting in a fatal accident. The child was not injured himself.

Can the parent be charged with causing the accident/manslaughter? What are the liability issues here? Thank you for any perspective you can provide.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Unsupervised child runs into street, causing a fatal accident...":

Dana (Allentown, NJ):

From the facts you present, it appears the parent may have been negligent in failing to keep her child from running into the street. However, there are a substantial number of variables involved.

For example:

- How old was the child? If the child was 7 or older, and left the property, the mother's negligence may have been lessened.

- Was there a fence enclosing the yard? If so, did someone open the gate, allowing the child to leave? If so, the mother's negligence may have been lessened.

- Was the mother watching the child, and in an instant the child left the yard? If so, the mother's negligence may have been lessened.

In the State of New Jersey, the law governing neglect of children can be found in New Jersey Statutes Section 9:6-1 (a)-(d).

Under New Jersey law, "Neglect occurs when a parent or caregiver fails to provide proper supervision for a child or adequate food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care although financially able or assisted to do so."

To extrapolate the negligent supervision into becoming the direct and proximate cause of the fatality would be would very difficult. In the State of New Jersey, parents may be liable for their child’s acts, but only for damage to railroads, public utilities, or school property. In those instances, a parent’s financial responsibility is capped at $5,000.

While the results were tragic, it is unlikely a court would agree to hear a case based on the actions of the parent as set out in your question.

For additional information on parental liability for children read:

St. John's Law Review: "Parent's Negligent Supervision of a Child Not a Tort"

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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