When a Personal Injury Case Involves a Minor
As parents, we spend countless hours worrying about every aspect of our children’s lives; everything from their development, education, and friends to, of course, their health and safety. One of every parent’s worst nightmares is his or her child suffering a serious injury, such as from a car wreck or some other type of physical trauma. Since parents typically don’t want to even think about their child being injured due to someone else’s negligence, most parents don’t begin considering the associated legal implications unless it actually occurs.
When I meet with these parents, they are (understandably) extremely stressed out about their child’s injuries, and it’s also obvious that their stress levels are magnified due to questions and uncertainty regarding the legal process. During my initial meeting with these parents, one of my main goals is making sure they understand that they’re not alone. By handling all of the legal and insurance aspects of the situation, I can help relieve some of their stress, so they can focus solely on ensuring that their child obtains the best medical treatment and makes a full recovery.
During this initial meeting, I also take the time to fully explain all of the ways in which a case involving an injured child is different than a case involving an injured adult. One big difference is that, generally speaking, minors cannot enter into legal binding contracts by themselves (such as a contract to hire an attorney), and minors also cannot file insurance claims or lawsuits by themselves. Instead, these actions must be taken on the minor’s behalf by a representative, such as a minor’s parents or court appointed legal guardians.
Moreover, in a case involving an injured minor, although the parents or legal guardians have the right to make decisions for the minor, they do not always have complete control over the situation. Decisions regarding settling the minor’s case and managing the minor’s net settlement funds may require court approval. For example, if the parents or legal guardians want to accept a gross settlement offer that exceeds $15,000, Florida law states that they cannot legally do so unless they first obtain the court’s approval. This typically requires a hearing, where the judge analyzes the situation and determines whether accepting the settlement offer is in the minor’s best interests.
However, if the gross settlement equals $50,000 or more, then before holding a hearing and making a determination, the judge is legally required to appoint an Attorney Ad Litem. Typically, this will be a personal injury attorney who has no connection to the minor’s case. The Attorney Ad Litem will review the entire file, and provide the judge with an opinion regarding whether or not the settlement seems appropriate under the circumstances. If the judge ultimately decides that the proposed settlement is in the minor’s best interests, only then the judge will enter an order authorizing the settlement. Not until the case reaches this point can the parents or legal guardians sign the documents necessary to officially accept the settlement offer.
Much as we wish we could, there’s no way to turn back the clock and prevent an injury. However, if your child is injured, I can help make the legal aftermath less overwhelming. As a personal injury attorney, that’s my job; as a parent, that’s my mission.