There are few things that are worse than being seriously hurt in a car accident in Baltimore. One of those things is when your child is seriously hurt in the crash. Unfortunately, these situations happen more often than we want them to, and when they do, it can leave you wondering whether you can sue on behalf of your child for their injuries.
In Maryland, you can sue on behalf of your child and get the compensation they need and deserve in order to recover from their injuries. Legally, this is called suing as the “next friend” of the victim of the car accident and is allowed under Maryland Rule 2-202.
However, there are a few important differences that arise when you sue on behalf of your child in a “next friend” lawsuit. These differences, though small, can greatly impact how the lawsuit proceeds and the best strategies for winning it.
But First: What Is a Child?
An important preliminary question is one that is often overlooked. What is a child in the eyes of the law? While most adults think they know the answer to this question, the law requires exact definitions and any confusion can result in terrible consequences.
Maryland Rule 2-202 allows “next friend” lawsuits in a couple situations. One of them is if you are suing on behalf of a “minor.” A minor is a person that has not yet become an adult; a child to anyone outside of the legal field. However, the question becomes when, exactly, does a person become an adult?
According to the Maryland case Mason v. Board of Education of Baltimore County, a person becomes an adult on the beginning of the day on which they turn 18 years old. Therefore, if your child was born on February 12, 2000, they will be a minor up until 11:59.59pm on February 11, 2018. They become an adult the instant the clock hits midnight, even if they were technically born at 8pm in the evening on the 12th.
While this might seem like a triviality, it can have a significant impact on other aspects of a “next friend” lawsuit, especially with how the statute of limitations works.
Who Can Sue on Your Child's Behalf?
Once it has been settled that your child is, in fact, a minor for the purposes of Maryland Rule 2-202, the next question becomes who can stand in their shoes for the purposes of a personal injury lawsuit?
When the child is in the sole custody of only one of his or her parents, that parent has the exclusive right to sue on the child's behalf for one year after the car accident. If that parent does not file a lawsuit, then any person with an interest in the child can sue on their behalf—including the non-custodial parent—so long as they notify the custodial parent that they intend to do so.
If both parents have custody of the hurt child, either parent can sue on their child's behalf.
When Can the Lawsuit Be Filed?
Typically personal injury claims in Maryland need to be initiated within three years of the incident that caused the injury. This is the statute of limitations.
However, when it was a child who was hurt, the statute of limitations will bend a little to accommodate them. In Maryland, if the victim was a minor those three years will not begin to toll until they have become an adult on their 18th birthday. This means injured minors can enforce their rights to compensation for a Baltimore car accident until three years after they become an adult.
This is where the exact date of adulthood matters. Because Mason determined that children become adults at the beginning of the day of their 18th birthday, it means that children have until the day before their 21st birthday to file a personal injury case in a Maryland court. If you, like the injured child in the Mason case, wait until your child's 21st birthday, you claim will be thrown out for not complying with the statute of limitations.
Another important difference in a “next friend” lawsuit on behalf of your child is whether you, as the parent or guardian, can accept a settlement offer under the following conditions.
- If you are the only living parent then you can accept a settlement offer on your own.
- If you are suing on behalf of your child and you are not the only living parent, then you must ensure that the settlement either gets approved by the child's other parent or, after you have made reasonable efforts to notify that parent, by the court.
- If the child has no surviving parent and you are suing on the child's behalf, then any settlement you want to accept must be approved by the court.
Settlements, Recovery, and Trust Funds
Even after the case is over and your child has gotten paid compensation for their injuries, there is still one big difference to take into account between regular lawsuit and “next friend” claims. What you can do with the money. The answer depends on how much the child receives.
If the child gets less than $5,000, regardless of whether it came in a settlement or a verdict, then the funds can be deposited in the parent or guardian's account and used for the child's benefit.
However, if the amount was $5,000 or more, the money is required to go into a trust fund with the child as the named beneficiary. In these cases, the money is held in the fund until the child turns 18, at which point they have exclusive access to it.
Baltimore Car Accident Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
Lawsuits that are filed on the behalf of children are even more complex than normal ones and often require skilled personal injury attorneys to see through to the end. Contact the Baltimore personal injury and car accident lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian online for the legal help you need.