How Is a Child Injury or Personal Injury Settlement for a Minor Handled?
Piccuta Law Group has finalized settlements for two cases involving child injuries in the last thirty days. Those cases both involved minors who were injured due to the wrongdoing of another. Specifically, the negligence of drivers while operating their vehicles.
Child injury settlements differ from adult personal injury settlements. There are several additional steps that are required. Court involvement is always necessary under the law. Below is information that describes the process and what parents and guardians need to be aware of when resolving a child injury case.
What is a Minor?
Under California law, a minor is anyone under eighteen years old. This is set forth in several different statutes. For example, California Labor Code Section 1286 defines a minor as “any person under the age of 18 years….”. Likewise, California Family Code Section 6500 defines a minor as “an individual who is under 18 years of age.”
How is a Child Injury Case Different Than a Regular Case?
A minor or child injury case is different than a personal injury case for an adult in several ways. First and most importantly, a child cannot represent his or her own interests in a personal injury case. They must have a guardian appointed or parent making decisions on their behalf. This includes entering into any agreements.
This means that a parent or guardian must enter into any agreements for representation with attorneys on behalf of the minor child. This also means that any settlement agreements reached must be entered into by the parent or guardian on behalf of the minor child. There are additional steps that the Court requires to approve and safeguard any child injury settlement which are described further below.
Court Approval Is Required for the Settlement of a Child Injury Case
Any child injury settlement reached must be approved by the probate court. This is true for any type of personal injury settlement for a child, not just car accidents. This would include slip and falls, child abuse, battery, dog bite, medical malpractice, etc. Simply put, if a child has any claim where money will be received, the court must approve it.
Any child injury settlement reached must be approved by the probate court.
The process involves filing a petition to approve the settlement of the minor. This Petition is a form required by the State of California. It includes not only the settlements of claims where lawsuits were filed, but also claims where no lawsuit was filed. For example, if a minor has a car accident claim and settles with the insurance company without filing a lawsuit—court approval is still required. Likewise, if a lawsuit was needed for the minor to recover on the injury claim, court approval of the settlement of the lawsuit is required.
What Information Does the Court Request to Approve the Settlement of a Child Injury Case?
The form that must be filed with the court, to approve a child injury settlement, provides details to allow the court to decide if the settlement is in the best interest of the minor child. This includes details regarding the accident or injury giving rise to the child’s personal injury case. This also includes a specific breakdown of every dollar to be distributed from the child’s settlement.
The court requires a description of the injury and the treatment received. The court also requires proof of the present condition of the child, so it may determine if the settlement is fair. The court typically requires medical records containing a diagnosis and prognosis of the injury and the present condition. The court will need to know if the child has completely recovered from the injuries or if they are permanent.
The court will also require a full accounting and itemization of every dollar to be distributed from the settlement. This includes the attorney’s fees, costs and any repayment of medical expenses. The attorney’s fees must be approved the court as well as any costs and expenses. Proof of the expenses must be provided to the Court as well as proof of the attorney fees. The court must approve every distribution from the settlement.
The court will independently review the attorney’s work on the case and determine if the fees requested are fair. The court will also review the medical expenses and costs to make sure they are customary, necessary and reasonable. Finally, the court will review the amount the minor will receive from the settlement to ensure that the minor is treated fairly.
Can a Parent Spend the Money Received from a Child Injury Settlement?
A parent is not allowed to spend or receive any money his or her child received from their injury settlement. The only exception is with an order from the Court stating otherwise. The settlement funds received belong to the child and the child alone.
The court will issue an order requiring that the funds be deposited into a bank account or other investment fund where they can not be disturbed. These accounts are typically referred to as blocked accounts. The banks are prohibited from distributing any of those funds with a court order. The court will require that proof of the deposit in a blocked account is filed with the court showing the bank where it was deposited, the bank account information and when.
When Can My Child Use the Money They Received From a Child Injury Settlement?
Once the child turns eighteen years old, he or she may receive the funds from the blocked account. Typically, the child can request these funds directly from the bank, who then must issue payment to the minor in full. Most times, this may be done without further order of the Court.
Can I Use My Child’s Injury Settlement On Things They Need?
Parents often wonder if they can spend money from their child’s injury settlement for things the child needs. Logically, parents should be able to spend things on the child that benefit the child’s life. This may be needed even before the child turns eighteen years old. Whether or not a parent is allowed to do this is a decision that will be made by the court.
A parent can never spend any money from a child injury settlement without court approval. This is true even if the parent intends to use that money for the child. Unfortunately, the reason court approval is required is because there are some parents who may misuse the funds on themselves. There are also parents who believe that their financial responsibilities, to take care of their children, should be supplemented by the settlement funds.
Courts strictly prohibit this. They will not allow settlement funds to be disbursed to the parent because the parent is having a hard time paying their bills. This is true even if the parent is having a hard time providing for the child. The money may not be used to fulfill a parent’s obligation to provide for their child. The money belongs to the child for the injury he or she suffered and the associated pain and suffering.
What Types of Things May a Court Approve a Parent to Spend a Child’s Injury Settlement On?
What a parent may spend a child’s injury settlement on is left to the discretion of the court. The parent must return to court and file a request for approval for the use of the settlement funds. This request is called a Petition or Withdrawal of Funds from Blocked Account. There is an approved California court form for it which is relatively easy to fill out.
The court will be critical of any funds being accessed or spent by the parent or guardian. The court may schedule a hearing to ask the parent or guardian questions. Typically, the court will ask for a showing that the withdrawal of the funds is both necessary and in the best interest of the minor child.
…the court will ask for a showing that the withdrawal of the funds is both necessary and in the best interest of the minor child.
A court may be more likely to grant the request if the child is closer to majority. For example, if the child is seventeen and a half years old and needs the funds as a down payment on college tuition, the court would be more likely to grant the request. On the other hand, if the child is seven years old and a parent is requesting the funds to take the child on a Disneyland vacation, it is unlikely the Court would allow it. The vacation is not necessary.
At the same time, the Court may be willing to grant the request even if the child is not close to eighteen years old if the parent can show a compelling need. For example, if the parent or guardian can show that the funds will be spent on educational enrichment or something that would better the child’s life and development. This could include an educational summer camp experience or orthodontic work like braces. However, again, this is left to the discretion and decision of the court and judge.
How Much Will an Attorney Charge to Get Court Approval of a Child Personal Injury Settlement?
Our law firm does not charge an additional fee for the work involved in getting a child injury settlement approved. Unlike other personal injury law firms, we include this service in our original fee to handle the personal injury case. Sometimes, the amount of work we do to get the settlement approved by the court is equal to the amount of work we do to settle the personal injury case itself.
Often times, other personal injury firms will charge several thousands of dollars extra to get the approval of the settlement from the Court. Other law firms may even hire other attorneys to do this work as they are not familiar with the process. We take care of this for every child injury case we handle at no extra charge.
Contact a Monterey Attorney With Experience Handling Child Injury Claims
If you are the parent or guardian of a minor child who was injured, contact our law firm today to speak to an experienced attorney. Our Monterey personal injury attorneys have decades of experience handling claims on behalf of minors. We are familiar with the process necessary to maximize the settlement payout and also gain the court’s approval. Contact us today for a free consultation.
About the author: The content on this page was written by California personal injury attorney and civil rights lawyer Charles “Tony” Piccuta. Piccuta graduated with honors from Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana (Previously ranked Top 35 US News & World Report). Piccuta took and passed the State bars of Arizona, California, Illinois and Nevada (all on the first try). He actively practices throughout California and Arizona. He is a winning trial attorney that regularly handles serious personal injury cases and civil rights lawsuits. He has obtained six and seven figure verdicts in both state and federal court. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers for six years straight. He is AV Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is a member of the Consumer Attorneys of California, American Association for Justice, National Police Accountability Project, Arizona Association of Justice, and many local county and City bar associations.
Disclaimer: The information on this web site is attorney advertising and is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice. Reading and relying upon the content on this page does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, you should contact our law firm for a free consultation and to discuss your specific case and issues.