Car Accidents Involving Children and Texas Law
If your child is injured in a car wreck, it is important to know that he or she has the same rights as you, your spouse, or any other adult, and as such, is eligible to seek compensation for damages incurred. Additionally, you as a parent may also be entitled to compensation, due to the impact that your child's injury has on you. However, both types of claims require a proactive approach since the insurance carrier involved in your case will not volunteer compensation. The last thing you need is to try to fight an insurance company while you are fighting to make sure your child fully recovers. That is why the assistance of an experienced car law firm, like Grossman Law Offices, can be so important, not just to your case, but to your peach of mind.
We have helped recover damages for hundreds of injured children and here's how:
Questions answered on this page:
- How does an accident involving an injured child differ from other injury claims?
- Should I pursue mild child's claim immediately, or wait for them to turn 18?
- How do courts protect the rights of minors in litigation?
- Why is an experienced car accident attorney crucial to maximizing your injured child's injury claims?
How a Case Involving a Child Is Different
A car accident case involving a child is different than that of an adult. The two most important differences are:
How the court views the case and what needs to happen to pursue a claim
The most important thing to remember in a child's car accident case is that a minor child has no right to bring a claim on their own behalf. Therefore, the options available to the child are to wait until they turn 18 to file their claim (which is a terrible option for a number of reasons) or for the parents of the child to file the claim on the child's behalf.
When parents choose to bring legal action on behalf of an injured child, the parent will hire an attorney to represent the child, and the parent has the authority to make all decisions regarding the child's claim. However, the primary concern of the courts and attorneys alike is that the child's best interests are considered above all other things in the case, and as such, certain legal steps exist to ensure that the court can easily make judgment calls for the child's best outcome.
Logically, this is all easily accomplished with legal representation, but new challenges come up when the parent elects not to hire an attorney. For example, a case involving a minor child that does not follow proper court procedure will often result in the court throwing out the case or denying a settlement agreement, because the court feels that such an agreement is not in the child's best interest. As a result, many people choose to hire an attorney in a car accident case involving a minor just to make sure that the court's requirements are met and that there is no doubt that the child had adequate legal representation.
This might strike one as odd, that a court would refuse to sign off on a settlement that is agreed to by both sides. However, when you think about it a bit, it starts to make sense. One grounds for throwing out a settlement or a trial verdict is that one side lacked competent legal representation. If a parent is negotiating on behalf of a child, without the assistance of a lawyer, this argument becomes much easier to make. The child grows up, turns 18, then files motions with the court that their parent was not competent legal representation and everything potentially gets thrown out. For this reason, courts are especially cautious in situations that involve unrepresented minors.
To put it bluntly, courts are perfectly happy to let adults make poor legal decisions and mess up their own cases, as adults are expected to understand their own rights. For instance, if we have a case where we strongly advise a client to settle rather than go to trial and the adult client disregards our advice, the court may agree with us that the client is acting against their own best interests given the circumstances. Regardless of our or the court's opinion, there is nothing that can be done to prevent an adult who is sound of mind from harming their own case. However, if a child's case hangs in the balance, an attorney must exhaust every opportunity to ensure that the best possible outcome is achieved on behalf of the client, and the court will effectively double check the attorney's work.
In order to make sure that the parents and attorneys are acting in the child's best interests, the court will typically appoint an ad litem (a court appointed guardian of sorts) to review all of the relevant case files and then represent to the court that the child's interests were of the most important concern of the parents and attorney. It is, therefore, imperative that proper court procedure be followed, as the ad litem's job is to make sure this is the reality. Most non-attorneys are not familiar with court procedure, which can result in a settlement agreement being voided by the court due to a parent's unfamiliarity with procedure and unrepresented child.
For example, sometimes adults are under tremendous financial pressure after an accident, so they will take some money now, foregoing the chance at a better settlement later, just because of immediate and pressing financial concerns. Those same pressures for adults may exist after a child has been injured, but the law is designed to prevent parents from placing their immediate financial concerns over the best interest of the child's claim.
Different medical concerns
The primary difference between the injuries a child sustains and that of an adult, is that special care must be exercised in order to ensure that all of the injuries are fully discovered and that the child's future, in terms of how the injury will impact their lives, is considered. A broken bone sustained by an adult in a car accident may require that the bone be set and that the adult wear a cast. However, when a child sustains a broken bone in a car accident, the break may be on a growth plate (for instance) which will require surgery to not only heal the bone, but ensure that the bone will continue to grow as the child ages. Since children are in a transitional period of growth, their injuries can be more complex and more costly to treat.
Additionally, children cannot always express their symptoms or describe their injuries in the same way that an adult can, which has an impact on the value of the case. By hiring an experienced attorney who knows how to work with children and who has relationships with physicians who understand the complexity of injuries to children, you stand the best chance of being able to account for and quantify your child's injury, which has a direct impact on obtaining a fair settlement. After all, one of a parent's worst nightmares in a case like this is that a settlement that appears reasonable at the time does not account for treatment that a child may need as they grow up.
Damages a Child is Entitled to be Compensated For
The damages a child can be compensated for are the same as those an adult is entitled to receive. Two types of damages can be awarded under Texas law - general damages and special damages. General damages can vary considerably, and the potential value is subjective.
Examples of general damages are:
- Pain and suffering,
- Mental anguish,
- Physical impairment,
- Emotional suffering, and
Special damages are more specific in their financial value. Examples include:
- Lost wages and lost earning capacity,
- Medical expenses,
- Property damage, and
- Court costs.
While lost wages may not apply to most children (bear in mind that a high school student with a part-time job is still considered to be a child under Texas law), they may seek specific damages for various things such as their medical bills and other types of damages.
Statute of Limitations Extension for a Minor Child
As with injured adults, there are time limitations for filing a lawsuit. In general, adults have two years from the date of the accident to pursue legal action, but the state of Texas allows more time for minor children. Whatever the child's age is at the time of the accident, Texas law allows legal action until two years after the child's 18th birthday. The same legal extension applies to minor children filing claims for the wrongful death of a parent.
Think of it this way, the statute begins to count down from the day the child becomes an adult. This extension of the statute was instituted to ensure that the child does not lose the right to compensation simply because they were at the mercy of a parent or guardian who did not take it upon themselves to file on the child's behalf.
The Best Way to Handle Your Child's Car Accident Case
However, it's important to note that just because the child's right to file a claim in a car accident case will technically still exist when they become an adult, who's to say that the evidence necessary to win will still exist? Who's to say that the defendant will be easy to find or that their insurance carrier will still be in business? When a child is injured, the most responsible course of action is for the parent to pursue the claim on the child's behalf, with the representation of an experienced car accident attorney, while the opportunity still exists. For more information, call us at (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation today.
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