Motor vehicle-related injuries are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 5-19. In 2009, over half a million children were treated in emergency rooms for non-fatal injuries caused in car accidents. These children sustained injuries while riding in automobiles, on motorcycles, on bicycles or as pedestrians. (Data from: U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Svcs., CDC, Nat’l Action Plan for Childhood Injury Prevention 2012).
Children who are hurt in motor vehicle-related accidents generally have the same rights to bring claims and lawsuits for their injuries as do adults. Representing a child who has been injured because of a car accident, however, can be more complex than representing an adult primarily because they haven’t reached the age when the law views them as an adult. In Massachusetts that age is 18.
One of the areas where we are faced with a challenge as lawyers representing children is settling their personal injury case. When an insurance company or the defendant in a case, makes an offer to settle a child’s case, that child’s parent or guardian cannot just accept the offer and sign a release for the child. Instead, the law requires us as lawyers for a child to first seek court approval of any settlement being proposed for a minor.
If you are the parent of an injured child and you feel that a settlement offer is fair, you may wonder why you would have to get the permission of a judge who could never know your child and your family’s circumstances better than you. The logic behind this court-approval process, though, lies with the concept that because your child is a minor, he or she is legally incompetent to make decisions and that the court will ensure that the settlement is both fair and in the best interests of your child.
When we petition a Massachusetts court for approval of a settlement for a minor, we must disclose to the court all of the details of the proposed settlement including the total amount being offered, the injuries suffered by your child, what the medical prognosis (or outlook) is and how much the attorneys’ fees are. The court will also want to be assured that the monies from the settlement will be managed appropriately for the child until the child becomes an adult. The court wants to be confident that a parent or trusted person will not spend the money on something other than the child’s needs.
If your child has been injured in an accident, be sure to understand his or her complete rights before you accept any settlement on their behalf. A judge will be doing the same thing.
If you have questions about a child’s settlement contact us for a comprehensive consultation.