How Can Status as a Minor Affect a Personal Injury Case?

Filing a personal injury lawsuit for a minor can be complex and present some challenges that don't come up in a typical adult personal injury cases.

Personal injury cases regarding children tend to be common because children tend to be more prone to injury. However, minors have a different legal status than adults and are therefore not capable of independently making decisions regarding their legal representative, claims, and settlement amounts. 

The following are three of the major personal injury case tasks that are usually complicated by a minor plaintiff's legal status. 

Signing the settlement agreement

Minors are not legally able to sign contracts. This makes it impossible for a settlement to be agreed upon by a minor plaintiff and defendant without the presence of a guardian. 

Traditionally, personal injury lawsuits filed on behalf of a minor generally first appear as "friendly suits." A friendly suit is a term for a lawsuit that is filed just to get the case in front of a judge. In such a situation, the judge will appoint a guardian ad litem for the child to look after the child's interests. In general, this guardian ad litem will be the lawyer rather than the child's parents. 

Determining where the money goes

Settlement funds go directly to a plaintiff—or to his or her creditors if there are liens on the settlement—in a personal injury case involving only adults. However, the settlement fund check cannot usually be written out to a minor. 

In most states, it is required that an Application for Approval of the Settlement is filed before the disbursement of settlement funds can occur in a personal injury case involving a minor. This procedure is done to ensure that the settlement is in the child's interests and beneficial to the child. 

Some states require that money given to a minor in a personal injury settlement must be put into a trust. The most common way to resolve a personal injury case with a minor is through a structured settlement. This is an arrangement whereby the settlement funds are invested and the child begins receiving dividends on those investments when he or she becomes a legal adult. 

Calculating attorney fees

There are laws in some states that cap the percentage of the settlement that a lawyer can charge as an attorney fee if the victim is a minor. For example, there has long been a 25 percent cap on attorney fees for legal services provided on personal injury cases in the state of California. For assistance, talk to a professional like Spiegal And Barbato LLP.