Last week, the Rabbi Lawyer discussed a tragic case involving a falling tree that injured several children.
In response to that post, I’ve been asked how a typical accident case differs when the accident victim is a child. It’s a great question that illustrates a very different approach to such cases.
Anyone under 18 is a minor, and the law does not recognize a minor’s ability to contract or retain a lawyer. Instead, all of a minor’s decisions must be made by his or her parents on the child’s behalf.
What this means is that if a child is injured and needs to hire an attorney, the attorney is essentially hired by the child’s parents. If the case proceeds to litigation, the court must appoint the child’s parent or parents as a guardian ad litem to prosecute the case.
The appointment of a guardian ad litem is necessary to protect the child’s best interests throughout the case. If the case settles, the court must approve the terms of the settlement to ensure that the child’s interests were protected and the settlement will advance the child’s rights.
A corollary of this requirement is that any time a child receives settlement money, the court must approve the amount, even if the case is settled out of court.
In the event of a settlement, the child’s attorney must file what’s called a “Minor’s Compromise” petition. The court will scrutinize the settlement terms, and also make sure safeguards are in place to make sure the child actually receives his or her settlement money. The attorney’s fees must be approved by the court as well.
These procedures can take longer than a typical case. Nevertheless, they are in place to protect children who may have been injured through the negligence of another.
It’s always sad when a child is injured. Whether it’s a dog bite, a fall on the playground, or an auto accident G0d forbid, an injured child can melt even the coldest heart.
For questions about your case, your Los Angeles accident lawyer is just one phone call away.