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Personal Injury Settlements for Minors in Virginia: What You Need to Know

According to data from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), car accidents are the number one cause of death from injury and one of the leading causes of injuries to children between the ages of 5 and 19 in the United States. There are approximately 150 children treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained in crashes every hour.

Just as adult car accident victims have the right under Virginia law to pursue damages against the party responsible for the crash, an injured child also has the same rights. However, the legal process for child victims can be complex, with different and/or additional requirements than accident cases for adult victims. This is why parents should consult with a Virginia car accident attorney to find out what the proper procedures are.

 

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Since the child is a minor, they are not legally allowed to file a car accident claim in their name. Instead, the claim must be filed by a person Virginia law refers to as a “next friend.” The next friend is usually the child’s parent or legal guardian. The courts do not require a special legal proceeding to name the next friend.

Financial compensation that may be pursued on behalf of the child includes pain and suffering, emotional trauma, future medical care, permanent scarring or disfigurement, loss of life enjoyment, and loss of the ability to earn future income.

Medical expenses that have been incurred in the past, as well as any future medical expenses, are also damages that the at-fault party is liable for, however, there is usually a separate action filed by the child’s parents for these damages. This is because the parents, and not the child, are legally responsible for all medical expenses required to care for their child. Your Virginia personal injury attorney can explain in more detail how these expenses, and other financial losses you may have suffered because of your child’s injuries, can be pursued.

Infant Settlement

In Virginia injury statutes, minor children are referred to as “infants.” In the majority of any accident action filed on behalf of a minor victim, the court must approve any settlement or lawsuit. This process is called an infant settlement. This is done to ensure that the amount being awarded to the child is a fair and just amount, appropriate for any permanent injuries the child may be left with.

The infant settlement requires a hearing before the court, where the child and parents will be present, as well as the Virginia injury attorney representing the child. Some jurisdictions also require a guardian ad litem be appointed on behalf of the child to ensure any settlement proposed is in the child’s best interest. The court may have questions for the parents, including what type of injuries the child suffered, how they have recovered, and if there are any residual effects the child has been left with. If the child is old enough, the judge may even ask them questions. Other documentation, such as medical records, medical bills, and custody documents, will also be introduced. Having a seasoned Virginia accident attorney who is well versed in these types of legal proceedings is crucial to a successful outcome for your family.

Once the court approves the settlement or award amount, the next step is to decide how and when the funds will be dispersed. If the amount is for $15,000 or less, the court could allow the funds to be released to the child’s parents or legal guardian, to be held in trust until the child reaches the age of majority. When it comes to structured settlements, the courts have several options, including requiring the funds be paid and held by the court’s general receiver or a fiduciary on behalf of the child. Your Virginia personal injury attorney will explain all of the possible options based on the circumstances of your child’s case.

In Virginia infant settlement cases resulting in infant proceeds under $25,000.00, Virginia Code § 8.01-606 also provides in pertinent part as follows:

§ 8.01-606. Payment of small amounts to certain persons through court without intervention of fiduciary; authority of commissioners of accounts; certain fiduciaries exempt from accountings.

A. Whenever there is due to any person, any sum of money from any source, not exceeding $25,000, the fund may be paid into the circuit court of the county or city in which the fund became due or such person resides. The court may, by an order entered of record, (i) pay the fund to the person to whom it is due, if the person is considered by the court competent to expend and use the same in his behalf, or (ii) pay the fund to some other person who is considered competent to administer it, for the benefit of the person entitled to the fund, without the intervention of a fiduciary, whether the other person resides within or without this Commonwealth. The clerk of the court shall take a receipt from the person to whom the money is paid, which shall show the source from which it was derived, the amount, to whom it belongs, and when and to whom it was paid. The receipt shall be signed and acknowledged by the person receiving the money and entered of record in the book in the clerk's office in which the current fiduciary accounts are entered and indexed. Upon the payment into court, the person owing the money shall be discharged of such obligation. No bond shall be required of the party to whom the money is paid by the court.

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C. Where judgment is taken in the general district court, upon motion of a party for good cause shown, the general district court judge may enter an order directing the clerk of the general district court to hold such funds in escrow for a period not to exceed 180 days to enable such party to file a petition pursuant to § 8.01-600 requesting that such funds be received and held by the clerk of the circuit court upon payment of fees in accordance with § 17.1-275. The party petitioning the circuit court shall provide the clerk of the general district court a certified copy of any order entered by the circuit court directing that such funds held by the clerk of the general district court be transferred to the clerk of the circuit court. If no such order is received by the clerk of the general district court within the 180-day period, the clerk of the general district court shall give notice to the parties that such funds shall be disbursed to the plaintiff for which judgment was entered in the general district court within 30 days after such notice.

D. Whenever a person is entitled to a fund or such property distributable by a fiduciary settling his accounts before the commissioner of accounts of the court in which the fiduciary qualified, and the amount or value of the fund or property, or the value of any combination thereof, is not more than $25,000, the commissioner of accounts may approve distribution thereof in the same manner and to the extent of the authority herein conferred upon a court including exemption from filing further accounts where the value of the fund being administered is less than $25,000.

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F. Whenever a fiduciary is administering funds not exceeding $25,000, the circuit court of the county or city in which the fund is being administered by order entered of record may authorize the fiduciary, when considered competent to administer the funds, to continue to administer the funds for the benefit of the person entitled to the fund without the necessity of filing any further accounts, whether such person resides within or without this Commonwealth. The clerk of the court shall take a receipt from the fiduciary, which shall show the amount of the fund remaining, to whom it belongs, and the date the court entered the order exempting the filing of further accounts. The receipt shall be signed and acknowledged by the fiduciary and entered of record in the book in the clerk's office in which the current fiduciary accounts are entered and indexed. No surety shall be required on the bond of a fiduciary granted an exemption from filing any further accounts.

Statute of Limitations to Filing

The statute of limitations for an adult to file a personal injury claim is two years, but Virginia law has a different timeline for minors, which is two years from the child’s 18th birthday. However, it is recommended that a family not wait for the child to reach adulthood and file their own claim, for several reasons, including the inability to obtain older medical records, witness statements, and other evidence needed to prove the case.

It is important to note, however, that parents who are filing their own lawsuit for the medical expenses they had to pay for their child’s treatment do not have an extended statute of limitation. Your accident lawyer will determine what the deadline is for your case.

Contact Our Office Today

If your child has been injured in a car accident or other type of accident, contact a Virginia personal injury attorney to find out how we can help. The legal team at Shapiro & Appleton has more than three decades of advocating for injured victims and their families and will help your family get the financial justice you deserve. Call our office today for a free and confidential case evaluation.

Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia