Summary of Strait v. Crary, Citation: 496 N.W.2d 634 (1992)
Facts: Strait, a 16-year-old, and several other teenagers went riding in Crary’s pickup truck. Crary, who was 21 years old, purchased beer and other liquor for the teenagers, and they quickly got drunk. Crary, who did not drink, drove the teenagers around the countryside while they continued drinking. At one point, Strait, who had been sitting in the front seat, attempted to climb out of the window and into the back of the truck, where the other teenagers were. In doing so, he fell and the truck ran over his leg, breaking it.
Procedural Posture: Strait and his parents sued Crary, claiming that he was negligent in the way he operated his truck under the circumstances. At the trial’s conclusion, Strait requested several jury instructions, including one that set a separate standard of care for children and one which instructs the jury to consider that special standard in comparing the parties’ negligence. The trial court denied the requests, concluding that under the unusual facts of the case, Strait, though a minor, should be held to the adult standard of care. The jury found both Strait and Crary causally negligent and apportioned the negligence 61% to Strait and 39% to Crary. The trial court denied Strait’s post-verdict motions and dismissed the case.
Issue: Was Strait comparatively negligent for his own injuries?
Rule: Where a child’s activity is not an adults-only activity, and there is no innocent victim, the exception to the rule holding minors to a different standard of care than adults is inapplicable.
Reasoning: At the time of the accident, Strait was a child and Crary was an adult. Despite the proper standard of care that was raised by the evidence, the trial court declined to give instructions that would have informed the jury of the law: that “different standards of ordinary care apply to [children and adults].” The “child” exception to the adult standard of care applies only in cases where the child is engaged in an activity which is normally one for adults only, and is grounded on public policy considerations: When a child is engaged in such activities, public policy requires that the child himself should suffer the consequences of that conduct, not an innocent victim. Here, while getting drunk may be considered an adult activity, climbing around the outside of a moving vehicle may not be. Either way, the policy underlying the rule is not implicated in this case because there was no “innocent victim” of Strait’s conduct. Thus, the exception to the rule holding minors to a different standard of care than adults is inapplicable to the facts of this case.