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The justice system forms an important arm of governance where it focuses in resolving disputes prone to occur between individuals. The system is guided by various laws generally grouped into civil, common, statute, and criminal law and incorporates more areas and sub areas of law such as torts, contract, and property law among many others. Generally, a tort is considered to be a legal wrong, whether accidental or intentional, resulting into injury or damage. Essentially, the law of torts incorporates all negligence cases and intentional wrongs enabling compensation to people with regards to damage or harm caused by other.
In the area of torts, considering it includes both negligence cases and intentional wrongs, direct and indirect responsibility are usually distinguished to enable lawmakers to make informed decisions about compensation. In direct responsibility, the person causing the harm is said to be liable for his own actions. On the other hand, indirect responsibility involves a person being held responsible for the acts of someone else. This is in relation to the law of torts being considerably difficult when minors and animals enter into the tort equation considering the law has special laws governing minors and animals. When they break laws, it becomes difficult to deal with those situations as they are exempted in various laws.
Tort Law, Minors and Animals: Overview
In legal terms, a minor is someone who is below a certain age, which is usually specified in various jurisdictions with most taking 18 years as the defining number. Legally, this means that a person under the age of 18 cannot be held liable for certain things; for example, getting into legally binding contracts or being tried and punished as a juvenile and not as an adult in criminal cases. The Animals act among others provides legislation for the relationship between animals and the rest of society. Incidentally, the Queensland law review commission avers that there is an adequate legislation to protect animals from harm and damage caused by humans even though ones protecting humans from liability caused by animals is lacking.
Indirect responsibility in torts is inextricably linked to the issue of negligence, which refers to failure in using what is legally referred to as ‘ordinary care’ through an act or its omission. Negligence happens in situations when one does not provide the amount of care that reasonably careful people would do in various situations or when one does something a heedful person would never does in certain situations. Specifically, proximate cause is determined in order to show that injury is as a result of negligent conduct. Additionally, negligence involves the defendant owing a duty of care to the plaintiff, who in this case may even refer to the general public, where the defendant should be shown to violate that duty.
Indirect responsibility, Tort Law, Minors and Animals
The general rule in tort liability requires the plaintiff to prove fault on the defendant part in a particular case, and hence, is applicable in cases involving minors and animals. However, for animals, the special rules of strict liability, where animals are considered not to possess a conscience, can be applied. This is because animals have a high potential to harm people, and the owners have a duty to restrain them. In this case, the owner is liable for any damages caused whether he is found strictly liable at fault and negligent or not. This applies to both wild and tame animals considered to have a vicious predisposition known by the owner. Generally, damage can result in many forms and through various ways including nuisance in terms of stench or noise, through trespass or occupiers’ liability where owners are liable for injury inflicted to lawful entrants into a property.
The case ‘Howard v. Bergin, O'Connor & Co.13’ highlights a tort negligence case involving animals. In the case, defendants bought cattle, which in the process of unloading allowed two bulls to escape onto the highway where they harmed the plaintiff. The unloading platform, which had pens was not used, which enabled the bulls to escape; in addition to a gate leading to a public road being left open. One drover had followed and located bulls in a laneway and left them unguarded in order to get help in herding them back when the animals attacked the plaintiff. Judges ruled that the defendant negligently allowed the bulls to escape causing injury to the plaintiff since the operation required a lot of vigilance as the owners knew the potential dangers of animals escaping.
According to the national paralegal college, minors are responsible for their own torts although special rules are used with regards to different ages. For instance, children below seven years cannot be negligent while, between the age of seven and fourteen, there is a rebuttable presumption the child cannot be negligent. In this case, a child’s culpability is usually tested in consideration to factors such as age, intelligence and experience in relation to other children with the same characteristics who may behave differently in the same circumstances. However, when minors engage in adult activity such as driving a car, which results to injury to another, they are held to standards similar to those of adults.
In other instances, minor’s parents can be held negligent for the conduct of their children resulting to harm to others, a liability known as vicarious liability, which is exercised differently in different jurisdictions. The case ‘Waters v O'Keeffe’ highlighted by the Law Reform Commission where the defendant’s children without parental authority erected a gate on plaintiff’s property leading to injury, shows potential for parents to be held liable for minor’s actions. This is supported by another case, the ‘Sullivan v Creed’, where the defendant, a farmer, left his gun loaded and at full cock after shooting rabbits where his son took it and inflicted injury on the plaintiff. The court eventually ruled in favor of the plaintiff highlighting the parent’s negligence contribution to his son’s behavior.
The cases in tort involving minors and animals highlight the difficulty in rulings involving those cases. Complexity of particular cases, in addition to various variables such as, age, experience of minors, during the commission of criminal acts, may prove difficult in resolving a case. Tort cases involving minors and animals highlight indirect responsibility inherent in such cases by virtue of various limitations of both animals and minors. Animals found in human populated areas are generally owned by various people. There are various laws determining the need to restrain them in order not to cause harm to others. Minors also may be subject to rules made by their parents where actions may lead to injury to others. This shows the indirect responsibility implied on the owners in case of animals and parents for minors.