The legal process for child injury claims is both similar to and different from the legal process for injury cases regarding adults. While the basic components of negligence and damages still apply, there are a number of laws and statutes concerning minors that any parent of an injured children must know in order to successfully navigate the personal injury claims process.
Minors and Guardians
For example, a child under the age of 18 is legally considered a minor. In Washington state, a minor cannot file a lawsuit on his or her own. This can only be done by a guardian appointed by the court. A guardian is someone who the court believes will adequately protect the child's interests and do what is best for the child in the legal case that is being filed on the child's behalf.
To pursue a lawsuit on behalf of an injured child, a petition must first be filed which asks the court to appoint a suitable guardian who will bring the lawsuit on the child's behalf. Oftentimes the guardian appointed by the court will be the child's parent or parents. However, there are some situations in which using the child's parents as guardians can be a problem.
For example, if the child was injured in an automobile accident that was caused by the child's parent, then the child's claim against the parent creates a conflict of interest which will prohibit that parent from acting as the guardian in the lawsuit. But a conflict may still exist if the child merely has a potential claim against the parent.
If there is any evidence that the defense might argue the parent was partially or wholly responsible for the child's injuries, then it is usually a good idea to find another person other than the parent to act as guardian on the child's behalf. Once the court grants the petition, an order is entered stating that the guardian is authorized to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the child.
Next: Pleadings, Summons, and Complaint
After the guardian is appointed by the court, then that person can legally file a lawsuit for the child. In addition to the petition, there are additional documents called pleadings that must be filed in court along with a fee paid to the clerk. These pleadings are called the summons and complaint.
The summons informs the person being sued that a lawsuit is being filed and that a response to the lawsuit is due within a certain period of time. The complaint describes the particular cause of action that is being alleged against the person being sued. The complaint will also set forth facts which support the cause of action. A complaint must be reasonably specific and inform the person being sued of the grounds supporting the claim.
Lawsuit and Statute of Limitations
The person who files a lawsuit is called the plaintiff. The person or entity who is being sued is called the defendant. Technically, the plaintiff is considered the guardian acting on behalf of the child. The plaintiff must arrange to personally serve a copy of the summons and complaint on the defendant. You only have a certain amount of time to settle your case or file a lawsuit and then personally serve the defendant.
In Washington, this time is usually 3 years from the date of the accident. This deadline is called the statute of limitations. In claims involving minor children, the statute of limitations period is usually tolled (delayed) and will not start to run until the child's 18th birthday. Then the child has three years until the child's 21st birthday to settle the claim or file a lawsuit.
As with many types of injury cases, accidents that cause serious injury to a child or multiple children can be incredibly complex. The investigation of the circumstances that led to a particular accident can take weeks or even months to complete, and can also require the hiring of multiple experts to testify about the facts of a case. A qualified attorney with experience handling child injury cases may be able to provide clarity about whether ot not pursuing a lawsuit is the child's best interests.
The attorneys at Davis Law Group have decades of experience handling child injury claims and have helped accident victims and their loved ones recover substantial compensation for their injuries through settlement negotiations and jury trials. We'll review the facts of your child injury case free of charge and help you understand if hiring an attorney may be beneficial.