For any adult that has children, it can be one of the worst outcomes of a car accident in Philadelphia: Your child is the one who got seriously hurt in the crash. Whether you were driving and your child was in the backseat when the accident occurred, or whether your kid is a teenager who had just started driving, the worry and anxiety can still be devastating.
Once the dust settles and emergency medical treatment has been received, your thoughts are likely to turn to whose fault the accident had been. If the other driver had been negligent and caused the crash, the next question becomes: Can I sue for my child's injuries from the accident?
The short answer is yes: 231 Pennsylvania Code Rule 2027 requires any minor who is involved in a lawsuit to be represented in court by a guardian, who controls the lawsuit on the minor's behalf.
However, there are some important differences between the personal injury lawsuit that would be filed on behalf of your child, and one that you would have filed to recover for your own injuries.
What is a Child, in the Eyes of the Law?
Before discussing the differences between a lawsuit on your own behalf and one on your child's, an important thing to note is what it means to be a “child” in the eyes of the law in Pennsylvania.
Legally, a child is the same thing as a minor. Minors are people who are under the age of 18. Therefore, minors become adults on their 18th birthday. If your child was 18 or older at the time of the car crash, then they will have to protect their own legal rights, and you will not be able to sue for your child's injuries.
Does My Child Need an Adult to Represent Them in Court?
Because they are underage, minors are legally unable to make binding decisions on their own behalf. This includes important decisions relating to their lawsuit, like which personal injury attorney to hire, or whether to take a settlement offer. Only the guardian of a minor can make these decisions, so yes, your child does need an adult to represent them in court.
However, this rule does not apply in small claims courts in Pennsylvania, which can handle personal injury cases for up to $12,000. In those cases, a minor can represent him or herself. Whether they should, though, can often be a family matter.
Statute of Limitations for Suits on Behalf of Minors
Perhaps the most important difference between a personal injury lawsuit on your own behalf, on one of behalf of a minor child, is that the statute of limitations changes drastically. This can have huge implications on litigation strategy and your ability to recover adequate compensation for your child's injuries.
Typically, in a personal injury lawsuit for an adult's injuries in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations only gives you two years from the accident to file the claim in court. While two years is often enough time for you to fully understand the extent of the injuries that you have suffered, in some of the worst accidents, it is not, leaving it up to you and the court to guess how badly you have been hurt and how much compensation you will need to make a full recovery.
When the lawsuit is on behalf of an injured child, though, the statute of limitations changes. In these cases, the statute of limitations only requires the lawsuit to be filed within two years of the child's turning 18. This means that, if the minor was one day from turning 18 when they got hurt in a car crash, they would have two years and one day to file a personal injury lawsuit. On the other hand, if the child was only six when the crash happened, the personal injury lawsuit only needs to be filed before they turn 20.
The difference in the applicable statute of limitations can play a huge role in setting your litigation strategy. If the accident is a very serious one and your child has suffered severe injuries, it can be wise to wait numerous years before starting the lawsuit. That way, the true extent of your child's injuries can be ascertained. This eliminates much of the guesswork associated with getting compensated for future medical expenses, rather than medical costs that have already accumulated and shown their true dollar amount.
Minors Cannot Agree to Contingency Fee Agreements
Because minors are not legally able to agree to a binding contract, any contingency fee agreement associated with their representation in court needs to be signed by their guardian. This prevents a lawyer from hiding the details of a contingency fee agreement in the fine details, where a minor is unlikely to find them.
Minors and Settlement Offers
Finally, once a settlement offer is made, a minor's status comes back to impact the litigation. Just like when it comes to contingency fee agreements, courts in Pennsylvania closely monitor lawsuits involving minors to make sure that their interests are being protected, both from lawyers and from greedy parents.
In a personal injury lawsuit by a minor, any settlement offer has to be filed in court, either where the lawsuit is being pursued or in the minor's home county in Pennsylvania. This petition formally details the settlement offer, outlines exactly where the money from the settlement will go, and asks the court to approve of it. Oftentimes, this settlement offer puts much of the money into a trust account that the minor child will not be able to access until they turn of age, or until the a court order allows them to access it.
Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
If your child gets hurt in a car accident in Philadelphia, getting them the compensation they need to live a full life is paramount. Contact the personal injury attorneys at the Philadelphia law office of Gilman & Bedigian online for the legal help you and your child need.