Solicitor, Lee Dawkins deals with a frequently asked question, ‘Can children bring a personal injury claim?’
We are often asked if a child is entitled to pursue claim for damages for injuries sustained in an accident where they were not at fault.
The simple answer is that they can. Indeed, parents and guardians are legally obliged to consider bringing a claim for compensation on the child’s behalf.
One scenario we frequently encounter is where a child is injured as a passenger in a car accident and the driver at fault is the child’s parent. Many people believe that a child is not able to sue his or her parent, but this isn’t the case. Children are perfectly entitled to bring an injury claim against their own parent. In fact the law imposes a duty on the child’s parents to ensure that proper compensation is recovered in this situation. Insurance for road accidents is compulsory and the compensation will therefore be paid to the child by the driver’s insurance company, regardless of the fact that the driver is the child’s mother or father.
Generally speaking, the rules regulating children’s personal injury claims are the same as they are for adults. However, there is an additional layer of protection to ensure that children receive the justice they deserve. All settlements involving children under the age of 18 must be approved by a court – even if a negotiated settlement has been reached before court proceedings have been commenced.
Settlement approval hearings are usually short and informal. Settlements that have been reached between the solicitors representing the child and the opponent are generally approved by the court. However, approval cannot be assumed. The judge will need to be confident that the proposed settlement is in the child’s best interests. Occasionally a judge will send the lawyers away to obtain further evidence, especially where a medical report contains uncertainties. Alternatively the judge might simply tell the solicitors to renegotiate the terms of settlement.
In the eyes of the law, children cannot appoint a lawyer to represent them. This has to be done by a responsible adult, who is known as the child’s ‘Litigation Friend’. The solicitor will deal direct with the Litigation Friend and in an accident claim the Litigation Friend will have final say on any compensation settlement.
In most cases the child will be represented at the approval hearing by a solicitor. However, in more serious cases, a barrister may be instructed to appear on the child’s behalf. The venue will be convenient for the child and his or her family. In Devon and Somerset this will be at one of the county court offices such as Exeter, Barnstaple, Torquay, Plymouth. Newton Abbot, Taunton or Yeovil.
When the approval hearing takes place, the judge will also have to be satisfied that the compensation award is properly safeguarded. In most cases the money will be invested by the court and released to the child when they turn 18. Judges are however usually willing to release some of the compensation for the child’s immediate benefit. It is, for instance, common for requests to be made for money for computer equipment or funds for school trips and holidays.
If you are the parent or guardian of a child who has been injured in an accident that was not their fault, then you must make sure you comply with your legal obligation to ascertain whether compensation is available. This can easily be done by calling the FREE Slee Blackwell Helpline. Our personal injury solicitors will be able to tell you immediately if the claim is likely to be successful. If the injury claim does have good prospects of success then we can bring the case under a No Win – No Fee agreement, so there is no risk either to the child or to the parent/guardian.