What is a Parent’s Legal Rights When a Child is Injured in an Accident?

Children get hurt all the time. It’s part of being a child. But when a child is injured because of someone else’s negligence, the injured child may be entitled to compensation for their injuries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, accidents, or unintentional injuries, are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children and teens in the U.S.  An average of 12,175 children aged 19 years and younger die each year in the U.S. from unintentional injury, and an estimated 9.2 million children per year visit the emergency room for an unintentional injury. Although some of those injuries are due to the actions of the injured child, many are because of someone else’s actions.

There are many ways that a child can be injured as a result of someone else’s negligence. Some of the more common ways include:

  • Drownings and Falls
  • Animal Bites
  • Motor Vehicle Accidents (cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs)
  • Defective Products
  • Bicycle Accidents
  • Burns
  • Poisoning, Choking, or Suffocation

Who pursues a legal claim if a minor child (under age 18) is unintentionally injured due to another person’s negligence?

Although unintentional, many accidents that involve a minor child may be due to the negligence of someone other than the injured child. For example, if your toddler gets third degree burns on his/her face because a coffee shop employee, who was trying to balance a cup of hot coffee on their head, accidentally spilled the hot coffee on your child, then the child may be able to recover for medical bills and pain & suffering. However, since the injured person is a minor child and too young to file a claim, who is responsible for filing the claim on behalf of the minor child?

Typically, the parent or legal guardian files a personal injury claim on behalf of an injured minor child.

However, if a minor child dies and a claim is brought, then typically that claim is brought by the parents of the child, and by the administrator of the child’s estate, which again is often the parent(s).  In these situations, the parents are often acting in two capacities – as parents of the child to bring the wrongful death claim and as administrators of the child’s estate for the estate claims, which are sometimes also called survival claims.

Who Can Recover on Behalf of the Injured Child?

There are two parties who might be able to recover when a minor child is injured: The parent or legal guardian and the child after he or she turns 18.

First, it’s important to understand the type of damages that a minor child may be compensated for. They may be compensated for pain & suffering, both mental and physical, as well as actual and future medical expenses and lost wages. They may also be compensated for future medical expenses expected after age 18, and loss of future income expected after age 18.

Generally, the parent or legal guardian can recover for actual and future medical expenses up to age 18, as well as loss of child’s services before age 18.

As you can see, there are lots of complicating factors here, and you should not assume any of these rules apply to your particular case without talking with an experienced attorney first.

Things get even more complicated if the child dies.  In this event, the usual damages would include the child’s expected loss of income, and the full value of the child’s life.  As you might expect, this can get to be very large amounts due to the expected long-life expectancy of children.   There can be problems of proof as well in these cases, such as proving what types of careers the child might reasonably have been expected to pursue if he or she had lived.

How long does a minor child have to file a claim?

The statute of limitations, the maximum time after an event when a legal claim may be brought, can be very complicated for claims involving minor children.  It may also depend upon the type of claim involved.  For example, medical malpractice cases have a special statute of limitation for minor children that can be different than the statute of limitations for other types of cases, such as car wrecks.

Statutes of limitations are one of those areas of law that often requires a lawyer’s analysis, and generalizations cannot be taken to be applicable to each case.  This is just too important a topic to rely upon generalizations, so please be sure to talk with a lawyer who handles these types of cases so you can be comfortable that you file your lawsuit timely.

Some general rules include the general rule that the statute of limitations for an injured child under 18 years old ends 2 years after the child turns 18 years old.  This rule is subject to things like tolling, so again be sure to talk with a lawyer about the statute of limitations in your specific case.

But in medical malpractice cases, children don’t get such a generous amount of time for the statute of limitations.  For children injured by medical malpractice before they turned 5 years old, the suit generally must be filed no later than the child’s 7th birthday.  For injuries that occur after the child turns 5 years old, the action generally must be filed within 2 years of the date of the malpractice.   Again, my strong warning is that these generalizations should not be relied upon for any individual case, and each case should be analyzed individually to determine the applicable statute of limitations.

If you are the parent or guardian of a minor child injured due to someone else’s negligent actions then I advise that you speak to a lawyer right away so as not to have a problem with the statute of limitations. Attorney Jarome Gautreaux has been representing injured children for over 17 years and provides free consultations to determine if you have a case. He has seen way too many times where parents weren’t able to recover for a child’s injuries because they waited until the statute of limitations had passed before speaking with a lawyer.