Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Peterson v. Taylor case brief

Peterson v. Taylor case summary
316 N.W.2d 869 (Iowa 1982)
Tort Law

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Plaintiff minor, by his mother as next friend, challenged a judgment from the Polk District Court (Iowa). The trial court entered judgment in favor of defendant neighbors, against whom the minor had brought a negligence suit after the minor was burned by the neighbors' gasoline.

FACTS:
-A seven-year-old boy went to his neighbors' shed when the neighbors were away and removed two cans of gasoline.
-The boy was seriously burned when he attempted to build a fire.
-The boy, by his mother as next friend, filed a negligence suit against the neighbors.
-A jury absolved the neighbors of liability. The court affirmed.

ANALYSIS:
-The court no longer recognized any presumptions regarding a child's capacity for negligence or contributory negligence.
-A jury initially had to make a subjective determination of a particular child's capacity to understand a specific risk based on his age, intelligence and experience.
The standard of conduct to which this child had to conform was that of a reasonable person of his age, intelligence, and experience under similar circumstances.
There was sufficient evidence for the trial court to submit the question of the boy's contributory negligence to the jury. The child testified he had been told not to go on his neighbors' property if they were not home and that he knew about the risk of gasoline.
-The jury instructions adequately set forth the necessary elements of a landowner's liability to trespassing children for harm caused by an artificial condition.

RULES:

-A particular child in question can be found negligent only if his actions fall short of what may reasonably be expected of children of similar capacity.
-Regarding the subjective inquiry, there must be evidence adduced at trial concerning the child's age, intelligence and experience so that the jury may determine the child's capacity, if any, to perceive and avoid the risk.
-Determining how a reasonable person would have acted under the circumstances is clearly the function of the jury.
-The "reasonable child" inquiry differs from the "reasonable man" inquiry only in that the "circumstances" in the former case are broadened to include consideration of the child's age, intelligence and experience.
-In neither case should a witness, expert or otherwise, be permitted to express an opinion on what a reasonable person would have done in a similar situation, because such testimony would be tantamount to an opinion on whether the person in question was negligent.

CONCLUSION: The court affirmed the judgment in favor of two neighbors in a negligence suit filed by a young boy who was burned in a gasoline accident.

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