I recently saw a law firm post that asked — What trauma do children experience from accidents? Interesting question. Unfortunately, that law firm’s post simply listed a number of specific physical injuries. The post simply listed injuries that could be suffered by children as well as adults. They were not providing useful information. Instead, they were writing for Google search. A list of physical injuries might help that law firm with Google search but it does very little to answer important questions. It provides no real answers.
If your child suffers an injury from a car accident, you need to talk to the doctor. You need to talk with your child’s pediatrician or an appropriate specialist. In Huntsville and Birmingham, we even have orthopedics who sub-specialize in spine and bone injuries to children. It’s essential that potential injuries be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Proper treatment is key to the best recovery.
While that other firm’s post provided little or no useful information, I did start thinking — What is unique about car accident injuries to minors that you might need to know? How do personal injury claims for children differ from those to adults? What key information is important to know? If a parent were looking for information about their child’s accident, what might be important? Here are four key areas where Alabama personal injury claims for children differ from those to adults:
Personal Injury Settlements Involving Minors REQUIRE Court Approval
You are driving to work one morning when another car runs a red light. Crash! You are injured. Suddenly, you are thrust into a world of problems involving physical injuries, car repairs, medical bills and lost wages. If you are significantly hurt, you should seek some advice from an experienced lawyer. But, as an adult, you can settle your own car accident claim. As an adult, you regularly make or sign agreements. Nobody needs to approve your decision to settle your own personal injury claim. Even when you hire an attorney, you have the right to settle your own case. The decision belongs to you. No court approval is needed for a car accident settlement by a competent adult.
With minors, the law is different. Minors cannot legally enter into most contracts. That includes injury settlements. Instead, a parent or guardian typically handles the claim for the child. Our law provides court oversight to insure the parent or guardian has acted in the best interest of the injured child.
When a parent or guardian settles a minor’s claim, they will petition the court to approve a pro ami settlement. Pro ami basically means “next friend” or “for friend” and it’s the process in which the parent or guardian seeks approval for the child.
How does the court oversee and approve settlements involving minors? Typically, a local judge will listen to testimony from parents or guardians. The judge will also review medical records and bills. Most judges will want the lawyers (if you have a lawyer) to explain how and why the case was settled for a specific amount. When we represent an injured minor we approach these hearings prepared to fully discuss the case, injuries and settlement. We want the clients and court to know we did everything possible to get the maximum amount of compensation for the injured child. We want to protect the settlement funds for the injured child.
At the hearing, the judge will decide if the proposed settlement is fair. The judge will also consider and decide issues like fee or lien claims against those proceeds. The judge will want to make sure any proceeds are protected and preserved for the child. I’ll talk more about protecting the proceeds in a later paragraph.
Personal Injury Claims Involving Minors Have An EXTENDED Statute Of Limitations Period
Every state has laws that place limitations periods on claims. Those time periods differ from state to state. You may have longer to file a lawsuit in one state versus another. For example, here in Huntsville we are very close to the Alabama-Tennessee state line. When it comes to car wrecks, you have less time in Tennessee to file your suit than you do in Alabama. That’s why you should consult a lawyer if you suffer a serious injury.
In an Alabama car accident, you generally have two years from the date of the accident in which to file a lawsuit. You can certainly settle your case prior to the two year period. If you don’t settle, then you must file the lawsuit within two years. If you don’t file within that time, your case can legally be barred.
While the Alabama statute of limitations for car accidents is currently two years, the rules are different for minors. When a minor suffers an injury, the statute of limitations period does not start until the child reaches the age of 19. That’s the age of “majority” in Alabama. It’s the age when children can begin entering into their own contracts and making their own decisions as adults. The two year limitations period starts to run at that time. That way, children have two years after becoming an adult in which to make their own decision about filing a lawsuit.
I’ll give you an interesting story highlighting this issue. A number of years ago, a mother consulted us about the traumatic brain injury (TBI) her daughter suffered in a car accident. The crash was terrible. The young lady was run off the road. Her vehicle flipped and she suffered some significant head trauma. The mother wanted to pursue a case for her injured daughter. Yet, the father did not. So, the parents decided not to file a lawsuit. But, that was not the end of it! A couple years later, we received a call from the daughter. She was now 19. She wanted to file a claim for her injuries. We were able to help her.
Personal Injury Lawsuits Involving Minors Must Be Filed By The Appropriate Adult
Can a minor file his or her own case? No. Lawsuits involving minors must be pursued by the appropriate parent or guardian. In Alabama, married parents have equal rights to file the lawsuit on their child’s behalf. When parents are not married, typically the one with legal custody has that right. A legal guardian can also file a lawsuit for a child. Our law provides a number of ways a suit can be filed on behalf of an injured child.
I understand parental rights are an issue in some families. I understand parents and guardians may disagree about the best course of action for a child. (See the story I mentioned earlier about the young lady who suffered a serious TBI in a car accident.) If your child suffered a serious injury, consult an experienced lawyer who understands these legal issues. Talk out the possible courses of action.
Personal Injury Proceeds Involving Minors Must Be Protected
A settlement for an injured minor deserves and requires special protection. We’ve all heard the stories of famous child actors who made millions of dollars for some movie. Then, their parent or guardian spends their own child’s proceeds living a life of luxury. By the time the child actor reaches adulthood and wants control of their own money, nothing is left! Those stories are tragic. But, they can and do happen. Not all people should be managing or handling the money of others. Our laws try to protect innocent children from the mismanagement, waste or theft of their settlement proceeds.
When a minor’s injury claim is settled (and the settlement exceeds a specific amount set in our law), the proceeds must be specially protected. Typically, this means establishing a conservatorship under the oversight of a probate court. The settlement funds must be saved in a separate account. The conservator must be bonded or insured for the protection of the child. The conservator must account for the funds. And, the conservator can only spend funds on certain necessary items for the injured child as approved by the court. Conservatorships can be expensive and time-consuming.
One way to avoid the expense and time of a conservatorship is to settle the case with an annuity or deferred payment to the minor. Subject to court approval, you can settle with the proceeds to be invested in a safe annuity where they earn interest and are paid to the minor after he or she reaches the age of 19.
If your child suffered a serious personal injury, you need an attorney who will build the case for its maximum recovery. You also need an attorney who will advise you concerning the best ways to protect, preserve and grow the settlement proceeds so your child will have them as an adult.
Alabama law places safeguards on the settlement proceeds of a minor. If your child suffers a serious injury, it’s important for you talk to an experienced lawyer who understands how to help protect those funds for the future.
Alabama Law Protects Minors With Personal Injury Claims
In several ways, Alabama law tries to protect minors with personal injury claims. If you are a parent or guardian with an injured child, you need to understand these issues. You need to seek competent legal advice on them.
From our office in Huntsville, we are accident and injury lawyers representing clients across Alabama. Our law practice is devoted to working and developing every single case for its maximum value. We believe every client deserves that attention. If you have questions about a car accident or other personal injury, let us know. Consultations with the lawyers at Blackwell Law Firm are always free and confidential.