A six-year-old girl is being sued by a woman for €38,000 for causing a skiing accident in Vorarlberg, Austria that left the adult with serious injuries. The question of whether a child can be held legally responsible for causing an accident was discussed at the unusual court case heard in Feldkirch Provincial Court this week.
Austrian law states that a child under the age of 14-years-old cannot normally be held responsible in a civil court case. An exception to the rule is if an under-aged child would have been capable of discerning a danger and therefore prevent any wrongdoing on their part.
Typically supervisors such as the instructors and the parents would be sued for neglecting their supervising responsibilities. The court in Vorarlberg is now examining whether the six-year-old in this case is at fault, as claimed by the woman.
Both parties had been skiing in Bregenzerwald near the border between Germany and Austria when the child – who was part of a ski lesson group – turned in front of the woman, causing her to fall and suffer serious injuries.
Civil matters in many European courts have evidentiary determinations that differ significantly from United States state court cases. In the U.S., each side presents evidence, including expert testimony if needed, and a jury will typically make conclusions as to the facts of the case. In Austria, the court appoints an “expert” who performs an independent investigation then makes findings that are reported to the court. Evidence given by a court expert in this ski collision case suggested both parties were not paying enough attention before the accident and were both partly to blame. The court case was postponed last week to allow for further evidence to be collected, and will resume in two weeks.