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09/28/95 MIRIAM CHU v. ELIZABETH BOWERS

September 28, 1995

MIRIAM CHU, A MINOR, BY HER MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND EUNSOOK CHU, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ELIZABETH BOWERS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 14th Judicial Circuit Rock Island County, Illinois. No. 94 L 149. Honorable Martin E. Conway, Jr., Judge, Presiding.

As Corrected October 23, 1995. Released for Publication November 1, 1995.

Present - Honorable Allan L. Stouder, Presiding Justice, Honorable Peg Breslin, Justice, Honorable Michael P. MC Cuskey, Justice. Stouder, P.j., and McCUSKEY, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Breslin

JUSTICE BRESLIN delivered the opinion of the court:

We are asked in this interlocutory appeal to decide whether the tender years doctrine, which prohibits a child under the age of seven from being found contributorily negligent, is displaced by a provision in the Illinois Vehicle Code. We hold that the tender years doctrine bars the defense of comparative negligence as a matter of law in cases where a child under the age of seven is injured while riding a bicycle on a public road. We therefore reverse the order of the circuit court allowing the defendant to affirmatively plead the defense of comparative negligence.

The plaintiff, six year old Miriam Chu, was riding her bicycle across a public street when a vehicle driven by the defendant, Elizabeth Bowers, struck her. The plaintiff subsequently filed suit against the defendant seeking damages based on the defendant's negligence. The defendant asserted the affirmative defense of comparative negligence, claiming that the plaintiff was negligent in failing to observe various traffic laws.

The plaintiff moved to strike the defendant's affirmative defense because it is conclusively presumed under Illinois law that a child under the age of seven cannot be contributorily negligent. In response to the plaintiff's motion to strike, the trial court noted that section 11-1502 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-1502 (West 1992)) holds those who operate bicycles on public roads to the same duties as those who operate motor vehicles. Finding no Illinois cases that directly addressed the impact of this statutory provision on the tender years doctrine, the trial court denied the plaintiff's motion. However, the trial court certified the following question for interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 (134 Ill. 2d R. 308): "Whether a child under the age of seven years can be guilty of comparative negligence, according to the standard of care of a child of similar age, mental capacity and experience, when involved in an accident while riding a bicycle on the public street."

Since 1886, Illinois courts have applied the tender years doctrine to prevent children under the age of seven from being found contributorily negligent. ( Chicago, St. Louis & Pittsburgh R.R. Co. v. Welsh (1886), 118 Ill. 572, 9 N.E. 197; Mort v. Walter (1983), 98 Ill. 2d 391, 457 N.E.2d 18, 75 Ill. Dec. 228.) It is thus clear that, for most cases, a child of theplaintiff's age cannot be found negligent. The question for our consideration is whether section 11-1502 of the Illinois Vehicle Code supplants the tender years doctrine in cases where children under seven are injured as a result of riding their bicycles on public highways.

In considering this issue, we note that "the common law is not to be deemed abrogated by statute unless it appears clearly that such was the legislative intent." ( Lites v. Jackson (1979), 70 Ill. App. 3d 374, 375, 387 N.E.2d 1118, 1119, 26 Ill. Dec. 288; see also Brown v. Rouse (1904), 116 Ill. App. 513.) We must, therefore, find consistency between the tender years doctrine and section 11-1502 absent a clear legislative intent to the contrary.

Section 11-1502 provides in part that "every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be *** subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this Code ***." (625 ILCS 5/11-1502 (West 1992).) We find nothing in this provision to suggest a legislative intent to displace the tender years doctrine. Like all traffic laws, section 11-1502 is designed for the broad purpose of controlling traffic and preventing accidents. (W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts ยง 36, at 232 (5th ed. 1984).) It is enforced through criminal penalties (see 625 ILCS 5/11-202 (West 1992)) and does not create or expand civil liabilities.

It is true, of course, that the violation of a traffic statute may be introduced as evidence of negligence in a civil proceeding. ( Allen v. Dhuse, 104 Ill. App. 3d 806, 810, 433 N.E.2d 356, 360, 60 Ill. Dec. 559.) However, in cases involving children under the age of seven, the tender years doctrine prohibits the admission of evidence to establish a child's negligence. Thus, evidence of the violation of a traffic ordinance, like any other evidence of negligence, is not admissible to prove negligence on the part of a child protected by the tender years doctrine. See Fakhoury v. Vapor Corp. (1987), 154 Ill. App. 3d 531, 538, 507 N.E.2d 50, 55, 107 Ill. Dec. 386.

The defendant argues that section 11-1502's use of the phrase "every person," without excluding young children, evinces a legislative intent to include all persons who use public roads within the statute's purview. We have no dispute with this argument. However, the defendant fails to recognize that, in civil cases, the violation of a traffic ordinance serves an evidentiary function only and does not alter the established rules of liability. Therefore, we hold that section 11-1502 of the Illinois Vehicle Code does not supplant the tender years doctrine in cases where children are injured as a result of their use of bicycles on public roads.

The defendant additionally argues that her interpretation of theVehicle Code is the most reasonable one in light of Illinois' adoption of comparative negligence and other modern developments in the law. We find these arguments to be without merit.

While two appellate courts have held that the adoption of comparative negligence had no impact on the validity of the tender years doctrine ( Toney v. Mazariegos (1988), 166 Ill. App. 3d 399, 519 N.E.2d 1035, 116 Ill. Dec. 820; Mt. Zion State Bank v. Consolidated Communications, Inc. (1994), 267 Ill. App. 3d 402, 641 N.E.2d 1228, 204 Ill. Dec. 609), these courts relied exclusively on dictum in Mort v. Walter (1983), 98 Ill. 2d 391, 457 N.E.2d 18, 75 Ill. Dec. 228, to the effect that children under seven cannot be contributorily negligent. We do not believe that Mort is conclusive authority for the proposition that the tender years doctrine has ...


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