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Can a child be negligent in North Carolina?

The answer depends on the age of the child. North Carolina has developed what is known as “the rule of sevens” when determining whether a child is negligent or contributorily negligent. Children are divided into three groups depending on their age:

  • Under seven: A child under seven-years-old is legally incapable of negligence under North Carolina law.
  • Between seven and fourteen: Between the ages of seven and fourteen, a minor is presumed to be incapable of negligence. This presumption may be overcome by evidence that the child did not use the care, which a child of their age, capacity, discretion, knowledge, and experience would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances. A minor in this age category cannot be held negligent as a matter of law. This means that the issue must be decided by the jury if the case does not settle beforehand.
  • Fourteen to eighteen. The third category starts at fourteen and ends when the minor reaches eighteen. Again, the minor is held to a standard of care corresponding with their age. They are presumed to have sufficient capacity to be sensible of danger and to have power to avoid it and this presumption will stand until rebutted by clear proof of the absence of such discretion. Thus, a minor of fourteen years or older can be contributorily negligent as a matter of law.