Parents obviously bear responsibility for the safety of their children, but that does not mean that they have to be wrapped in cotton wool. A judge resoundingly made that point in rejecting claims that a mother was partially responsible for catastrophic injuries suffered by her eight-year-old son in a road accident.
The boy had been allowed by his mother to go to the park to play with his two older cousins, aged 11 and 10. The children were told to stay together and to maintain contact with their parents by mobile phone. After leaving the park, the boy was run down by a speeding driver as he attempted to cross the road. He suffered severe brain injuries and is unlikely ever to be able to live independently.
After solicitors launched proceedings on the boy's behalf, the driver's motor insurers admitted that he was primarily to blame for the accident. However, they argued that they should not have to foot the entire compensation bill on the basis that the mother had been negligent in allowing the boy out of the house without adult supervision.
In dismissing that argument, however, the judge found that it would be wholly wrong to find the mother in any way to blame for the accident. She observed that no matter how careful a parent might be, it is impossible for children to be completely protected from risk. Keeping them cooped up indoors and not allowing them to experiment with small freedoms carries its own risk.
The judge noted that, where something goes catastrophically wrong, parents may look back and agonise over a choice they made. However, the fact that, with hindsight, they would have taken a different course came nowhere near establishing that their original choice was wrong, still less that they were negligent.
The boy's mother was a responsible parent who had started to allow him to go out in controlled circumstances. She had taught him the Green Cross Code and had allowed him to taste freedom in a way that she considered to be safe. To hold her partially responsible for the accident would be to impose far too high a standard of care on an ordinary parent.
The judge also rejected the insurers' argument that the boy should bear some responsibility for the accident in crossing the road without sufficient care. Although there had been a momentary misjudgment on his part, he had been confronted by a reckless driver on a usually quiet residential street. The insurers were found 100 per cent liable to compensate the boy. The amount of his award has yet to be assessed but is likely to be a seven-figure sum.