When Your Child Is Injured in an Accident
One of the most tragic experiences in any parent’s life is when their child is injured in an accident. Few things can be more upsetting or more heartbreaking. But after the dust has settled and the injuries have healed, often parents want to know what right their child has to be compensated for what happened, especially if there will be a permanent limitation related to the accident. As a parent or guardian you have both the right and the obligation to do for your child what they would do for themselves as adults. Under the law, in these situations the parents/guardians are to act in the best interests of the child to ensure their right to compensation is protected.
A Child Can Only Act Through an Adult
Until a child reaches the age of 18 years, with few exceptions, claims against those who cause an accident and injury to a child must be brought by a parent or guardian. This is a very simple process, and it is referred to as the appointment of a “guardian ad litem.” The first stage in the process is usually the retaining of an attorney on behalf of the child. Following that, the personal injury attorney will handle the case much like any other matter except that the direct contact is usually with the parent or guardian. After the child has healed from their injuries and the medical expenses (including those that can be estimated to occur in the future) are known, settlement negotiations are begun with the negligent party’s insurance carrier. Once the case is settled, assuming that it resolves for an amount over the minimum number (usually $5,000.00), the settlement of the child’s claim must be court approved.
Court Approval of a Minor’s Injury Claim
After the parties to an accident have reached at least an initial agreement as to the settlement amount, paperwork must be filed with the court in order to have a judge determine whether the settlement is in the best interests of the child. That evaluation by the court is generally done in a “minor’s compromise hearing” in which the court determines whether all of the fees and costs incurred on behalf of the child were reasonable and necessary. In addition, the court determines how the child’s money is to be held for their benefit. Depending on the amount of the settlement, the courts generally require the settlement funds be placed into some sort of a structured payment arrangement such as an annuity. The payments generally commence at the child’s 18th birthday and can continue well into the future, with payments sometimes made at various ages up to 40 or even 50. If the sum recovered does not justify a structured payment plan, then a one time lump sum at age 18 can be approved by the court.