Every year, thousands of children are seriously injured as a result of the negligent conduct of others. From unsafe conditions in homes to negligent driving, children can be especially vulnerable to injuries. Like adults, children are entitled to proper compensation for the full extent of their injuries. But unlike adults, children are not able to submit insurance claims or file lawsuits on their own. The legal system has developed some important safeguards so that the claims process and courts work just as well when minors are accident victims.
Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to Cases Involving Minors?
The statute of limitations in Massachusetts is “tolled” (suspended) for minors. The three-year time limit within which to file a tort suit only begins to run on the victim’s eighteenth birthday. So, for example, if an eight-year-old suffers an injury on July 4, the statute of limitations would expire on July 4 of the year thirteen years after the injury. This can seem like a long time to allow a claim, especially with younger children. And while there may be several very good reasons to bring a claim earlier while the victim is still a minor, public policy considerations mandate that minors not have their claims extinguished for failure to bring them within the same limitations period as adults.
How Is the Claims Process Different?
When a minor is injured through another's fault and seeks compensation, an adult (typically a parent) submits the claim to the responsible party’s insurance carrier or files a lawsuit as “next friend” of the minor. The parent is responsible to promote and protect the child’s interests throughout the pendency of the case. If a settlement is reached with the insurance carrier, then the next step typically involves the filing of a so-called “friendly” suit in order to have a judge review and approve the terms (even where the underlying claim never ended up in court).
What Is a Friendly Suit?
Most people think of lawsuits as anything but friendly. A “friendly” suit is a lawsuit that resolves the personal injury claim of a minor, once the parties have agreed to a resolution. The lawsuit is the mechanism used for bringing the claim before a court so that a Superior Court judge can review and approve the terms of the settlement. This type of lawsuit is required (by insurance companies) in Massachusetts when a minor’s claim is settled for $10,000.00 or more. Once the lawsuit is filed, the case is scheduled for hearing within a few weeks in the Superior Court having jurisdiction over the underlying case. At the hearing, the Judge will review the facts of the case, the settlement terms, and consider the plan to protect the minor’s settlement funds until the child becomes an adult and can make his or her own financial decisions.
For more information on personal injury lawsuits for minor children, contact Brooks & Crowley today.