Seeing your child get injured can be one of the most traumatic experiences for a parent. It’s natural in such cases to want to get justice for an injury caused by someone else’s behavior. But when you do so, remember that personal injury lawsuits for children are different from the same kinds of lawsuits for adults. Below are three ways that the law treats children differently when it comes to personal injury cases.
1. The Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitations set time limits on when a person can file a lawsuit. But children normally can’t file a lawsuit at all, because they’re considered to be under a legal disability. Because of this, the law generally extends any applicable statutes of limitations until the children reach adulthood. For example, if a six-year-old is hit by a car in state with a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury, the statute of limitations would normally expire by the time the child turns eight. But because children can’t sue, the statute of limitations for that six-year-old actually won’t expire until he or she is 20—two years after becoming an adult.
For the same reason that children can’t sue on their own, they also can’t make contracts on their own. In fact, if a child were a party to a contract, the child could simply cancel the contract at any time. A child’s inability to contract extends to settlement agreements. So, the law provides a special requirement for settling children’s legal claims. Once the claim is settled, the adults involved must ask a court to approve the settlement agreement. They will also have to provide evidence that the settlement is in the best interests of the child at a hearing. That hearing is sometimes known as a “friendly hearing,” because both sides agree on what the outcome should be. Once the court approves the settlement, it is legally binding on the child.
Whatever compensation the child receives, whether at the end of a trial or through settlement, must be handled in a particular way. Once more, the child’s minority means that he or she will be treated differently than an adult would be. Whereas an adult can take the money received from a lawsuit and do whatever he or she wants, compensation to a child must be placed into a special account. That account might be one maintained by the court until the child turns 18, or it might be a special education account that will help pay for the child’s college. Different states have different rules for this, but the bottom line is that the court will ensure the child’s funds are protected.
These three ways in which the law treats children differently from adults in personal injury lawsuits are all designed to help protect children when they need it most. Of course, if your child is ever injured by someone else, you should consult a local, knowledgeable attorney to learn how these differences apply in your case.