Children are usually more vulnerable to serious personal injuries, which may occur due to school bus accidents, car crashes, playground falls, getting hit on a bicycle, or any type of slip and fall. In some cases, children may also suffer abuse from their caregivers, such as by a foster family or a daycare center, or an after-school program.
When children get injured due to another’s fault, they may have a legal claim for damages. The minor child’s parents have certain legal responsibilities if they are representing their claim. According to Virginia Code 8.01-8, a child below 18 may only file a personal lawsuit through their “next friend,” which could be either or both the parents.
Medical Bills are the Parents’ Responsibility
When a child is injured in an accident due to another’s negligence, and files a personal injury lawsuit through parents, they cannot claim medical costs as damages. The parents must bear the costs of medical treatment for the child. If the parents want to claim the medical costs from the at-fault party, they may file a separate lawsuit or a lawsuit along with their minor child in the same personal injury action.
If the parents’ claim and the child’s claim are tried together, the court will deliver two separate verdicts. The child will receive verdict for non-economic damages (pain and suffering) and the parents for the medical costs incurred.
Claim for Lost Wages of the Child
According to Virginia Code 8.01-50, if the child who has a personal injury claim pending, is legally emancipated, they have a right to recover any loss of income that may have occurred due to the injuries. For a child who has not become legally emancipated, the law in Virginia does not determine whether that claim of lost wages would belong to the parents of the child, or the child can make that claim.
Parent will be the First Administrator in a Wrongful Death
In a Virginia wrongful death case, if the decedent is a minor child, the law gives the first priority to the custodial parent to become the administrator. The parent may either qualify himself or herself as the administrator, or may designate someone else for this responsibility.
If either the custodial parent or their designee doesn’t file an application to qualify within 30 days of the minor’s death, the court may appoint an administrator in the same way as it would do in case of an adult’s wrongful death.
Court Approval may be Necessary for Claim Settlement
If the parents enter into a settlement with the defendant party on behalf of the child who has suffered personal injuries, the approval from a Virginia court may be required. This is because the child in this case would be considered to be under a legal disability.
The approval will involve a court hearing where the judge will determine whether the settlement reached by the parents on behalf of the child is in the child’s best interests. If the recovery amount involved is modest, a court hearing may not be required.
Parents’ Responsibility when Funds are Received
When a verdict or a court-approved settlement is reached in a child’s personal injury lawsuit in Virginia, the funds received on behalf of the child will be held by the Court Clerk until the child turns 18. As an exception, if the child has attained legal emancipation, the court may release the funds to the child.
Another exception could be that the courts release the money to the parents to hold it in a trust on behalf of the child. However, in practice, the courts in Virginia are reluctant to exercise this option, and may not release the money except in rare situations.
The Option of Structured Settlements
When the money is held by the Court Clerk, it will be deposited in a savings account, which will only may an insignificant amount of interest. On the other hand, if a structured settlement is agreed upon, it can increase the child’s recovery amount considerably (because the interest rates in this case would be higher). Subject to certain conditions, the law in Virginia allows the child’s settlement funds to be structured.
Flexibility is another advantage of structured settlements. The payments may be made at different stages upon the child’s emancipation, or may be delayed beyond the age of 18. On the other hand, if the funds are held with the Court Clerk, the child is just required to appear in Court when he or she turns 18, and the money will be released.
Protect Your Child’s Interests in a Virginia Personal Injury Case
When a child suffers personal injuries in an accident because of the negligence of someone else, it can be a traumatizing experience for both the child and the parents. If your child has been injured due to another’s fault, he or she deserves the maximum compensation under the Virginia personal injury law.
At Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn, our skilled and compassionate attorneys will build a strong legal strategy to help your child recover maximum damages. Call us at 800-752-0042 to schedule a free consultation today.