Generally, (1) a non-parent person who accepts responsibility to supervise, care for, or merely watch over young children, (2) is not an insurer of the child’s safety against every possible hazard, (3) but does owe a duty to use reasonable care to protect the child from injury, (4) even if done voluntarily, without compensation and/or on a temporary basis.
Failure to exercise due care is negligence.
Reasonable care is measured by the reasonable person standard, that is, the standard of the average reasonable parent. In other words, what would a parent of ordinary prudence, charged with similar duties, exercise or do under the same or similar circumstances?
The amount of care due increases with child’s immaturity, inexperience, and relevant physical limitations.
How young is a “young” child? Reported cases that I am aware of tend to show ages 13 and under. But there is no hard and fast universal rule.
These above rules appear to apply to a baby sitter, family friends, neighbors, and even grandparents.
See 65A Corpus Juris Secundum, Negligence, §78 and §538.
See also Mitchell v. Gonzales (1991) 54 Cal.3d 1041, 1054 [drowning death of 12-year-old minor who was at a picnic with neighbor’s family. Case in dictum indirectly holds that neighbor had duty to adequately supervise the child].
Disclaimer: This is a general article. Cases of this nature are fact dependent and may require complex legal analysis. Issues can arise that were not discussed. This article is not to be relied on a legal advice. Laws vary from state to state, and the laws in this area in certain states including California may be unclear or not yet fully developed. If you desire legal advice, consult or retain a lawyer regarding the specifics of your situation. Further Disclaimer.
Attorney Matthew B. Tozer