Who can sue on behalf of my child?
In Florida, a parent can always sue on behalf of their child. However, a legal guardian in certain circumstances can also be appointed by the court to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a child. Essentially, these situations depend upon the facts and circumstances surrounding the injury, the severity of the damages to the child, and what caused the injury in the first place.
Essentially, any child under the age of 18 cannot prosecute a lawsuit on their own. Instead, they must have a representative to prosecute a lawsuit or claim for them, such as:
- A parent
- A legal guardian
- An attorney appointed by the court
If your child was injured due to the reckless or careless behavior of another person, it is important to understand who can sue on behalf of their child. By consulting a knowledgeable lawyer, you could have help to understand your rights and pursue compensation through a civil lawsuit.
Common Child Injuries that Lead to Lawsuits
There are numerous situations in which a parent may want to file a claim or a lawsuit on behalf of their child. In Florida, the most common child injuries that lead to lawsuits are sustained in motor vehicle accidents. Anyone who has driven in the State of Florida knows that accidents are a daily occurrence on our roadways and, many times, there are children in those vehicles. Just like adults, children have a right to compensation if they have been wrongfully injured by a negligent driver.
However, when a child is injured, there are numerous court procedures that have to be followed, separate and apart from an adult lawsuit. A parent can make decisions on settlements and resolutions involving minors, but if the injuries are significant enough that a specific amount of money paid to that child reaches a certain threshold, the court must be involved to approve the settlement—even if the parent has appropriately negotiated that settlement on behalf of the child.
Lawsuits for injuries are not limited to crash crashes, however. Children can be victims of medical malpractice, dog attacks, or trip and fall incidents on someone else’s property. Indeed, there are many scenarios in which children would need representation, either through their parents or through a legal guardian appointed by the court.
How Self-Inflicted Injuries Might Impact a Case
If a child sustains a self-inflicted injury, it does not change the ability of a parent or a guardian to file a lawsuit. However, all the facts and circumstances need to be evaluated to determine why that child may have harmed themselves—is there something going on in that child’s life that caused them to harm themselves? For instance, did someone who is responsible for that child outside of their parents, in a school environment or in a medical environment, cause that child to want to harm themselves?
In that situation, it is vitally important to consult with a seasoned attorney who can begin the investigation into why that child may have harmed themselves and to try to determine, through the use of discovery techniques, what else was going on in their life. A compassionate attorney, in conjunction with the child’s parents, can make a determination as to whether there is an ability to seek compensation for that child’s injury on their behalf. Because of this, understanding how self-inflicted injuries might impact a case is essential for parents of an injured child.
What Evidence is Needed to File a Lawsuit on Behalf of a Child?
When a child is injured, the evidence needed to file a lawsuit on their behalf is virtually the same type of evidence that is used when an adult is injured. However, a specialist or specialists will be necessary to testify on behalf of the minor. For instance, if a child is injured in a car accident, those injuries will often be different from those that occur to adults. An adult may injure their neck or their back in a crash, while those same injuries to a minor may be regarded differently if they are unable to fully communicate how the injury has affected them.
While the evidence needed to file a case would be similar to what would be presented on behalf of an adult, it needs to be presented on behalf of the child by specialists—such as pediatric doctors— who are familiar with these types of injuries.
How a Divorce or Separation Might Impact a Case
A divorce between parents can make it somewhat more difficult to sue on behalf of a child, although it is not a prohibition to filing a lawsuit. However, both parents will need to be involved if a claim or a lawsuit has been filed for a child’s injuries. Essentially, the parents need to reach some sort of agreement as to who would be responsible for prosecuting the claim.
Typically, one parent will act on behalf of the minor and the other parent will be legally advised regarding significant matters that occur during the case, as well as being involved at the end to make sure they agree with the resolution regarding the child.
When is a Legal Guardian Appointed by the Court?
A legal guardian can be appointed by the court to sue on behalf of a minor child in many different circumstances. For example, there might be a situation where the parents themselves were injured in an accident and may be physically incapable of prosecuting the lawsuit or making the decisions for their child. Other the other hand, there might also be a situation where the parents are divorced, and the child is living with the grandparents. Furthermore, there can also be situations where the parents are not acting in the best interests of the child and, therefore, would not pursue a claim.
Essentially, the court can appoint a legal guardian in virtually any scenario. No matter the circumstances, the court would consider the specific situation, consult with both parents—or their legal representatives—and determine the best way to move forward on behalf of the child. Typically, in those scenarios, that would mean appointing a legal guardian who then can hire an attorney to act in the best interests of the child. Once this is done, a legal guardian would stand in the shoes of the parents and make the legal decisions regarding a lawsuit that would need to be made.
The Statute of Limitations for Injured Minors
There are statutes of limitations on virtually every type of injury and accident that occurs in the State of Florida. If someone is a victim of an injury—or if their child is a victim—they should always assume that there are time constraints that apply to that injury, and always assume that those time constraints are passing quickly. In many cases, the statute of limitations for injured minors can be as little as one year from the date of injury that a person has in which to file a claim or a lawsuit against a specific defendant for a child’s injuries.
These rules can be very complex, as they can be both contractual as well as statutory. As a result, it is extremely important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible so as to not let their potential recovery be barred. However, there might be extensions of those times if the child, for instance, does not have adequate legal representation—either through a parent or a legal guardian.
The Common Mistakes Made by Parents Attempting to Sue for their Child’s Injuries
The most common mistake made by a parent or legal guardian attempting to pursue a lawsuit on behalf of a child is if they have not consulted with an attorney. This is because there are several legal hurdles that are in place statutorily to protect the interests of minors in the State of Florida.
For example, if the minor was injured to an extent wherein the compensation to be paid reaches a certain threshold, the court must be involved to approve that settlement—even if the lawsuit has not been filed on behalf of that child. These situations might arise without the parents realizing they have reached this threshold, which would then, therefore, caused them to have violated the law. Due to these and countless other common mistakes made by parents, a well-practiced lawyer should be consulted to make sure the settlement is going to be legally binding on the defendant and in the best interests of the injured child.
How a Lawyer Might Help Sue on Behalf of a Child
If your child was injured because of another person’s careless or reckless behavior, it could be vitally important to consult with a compassionate and proactive lawyer for help with each step for how to sue on behalf of a child. Unlike a typical case where an adult is injured, the attorney cannot simply start negotiating or prosecuting a lawsuit on behalf of a child. Instead, the attorney must first have the child assessed to determine the true nature of the injury. If the injury meets a certain threshold, then it may be necessary for a court proceeding.
The attorney must also meet with both parents, either together or separately, to find out who is going to be the best parent to make the necessary decisions in the claim or lawsuit with the child’s interest in mind. If the parents do not agree for whatever reason, the attorney will have to consult with the court, and a legal guardian may need to be appointed. Furthermore, there are numerous legal considerations that must be determined by a legal professional to establish if any settlement:
- Will be binding on the defendant
- Will be in the best interests of the minor
- Will pay for the minor’s medical needs
- Will adequately compensation the injury needs of the minor
- Will adequately care for the minor’s injuries going into the future.
Because these rules can be very complex, having an attorney who is familiar with child injury cases might be essential. To learn more, reach out to a legal professional today to schedule a consultation.