One of the worst nightmares every parent faces is learning that their child has been in an accident. While it’s natural to feel a surge of relief once the doctor has told them their child is unharmed, certain long-term effects of the accident may not immediately be apparent. If your child was in an accident and negligence was involved, it may be in your child’s best interest to pursue a lawsuit.
Children are permitted the same rights as adults when it comes to seeking legal damages. However, since minors are not permitted to file lawsuits, parents must do so on their behalf.
But how do you know if legal action is right for your child?
If your child has been in an accident, below are some important things to consider while deciding whether—and how—to pursue recovery of damages for your child’s future needs.
Reasons to Pursue a Lawsuit
The following true story may help illustrate why legal action may be necessary, even in cases where the damages aren’t immediately apparent.
Jane (name changed for confidentiality) was thirteen when a car hit her in a restaurant parking lot, which she didn’t see coming because the restaurant had planted trees that blocked her view. Even though both the driver and restaurant were clearly at fault, no legal action was taken because Jane was released from the emergency room with a concussion and severe whiplash, both of which dissipated within two weeks. Her parents thought themselves fortunate their daughter’s injuries weren’t more severe. However, a year later, Jane began to develop hip pain on the right side where the car hit her.
By the time she was eighteen, her pain was chronic and at age thirty, it was so severe that she couldn’t walk properly or sit for long periods of time. Medical scans showed a labral tear in her right hip, which the doctor said was most likely caused by the accident that happened when she was thirteen. The statute of limitations had long since passed and Jane eventually had to pay for her own surgery.
If your child was in an accident, don’t just ask what’s wrong today, but what may be wrong years down the road, long after the statute of limitations has passed. Always consider the long-term consequences.
One of the first questions to address when deciding to pursue legal action is whether negligence was involved.
Negligence occurs whenever there is a failure to behave with the level of care expected of any ordinary individual. This can mean actions as severe as drunk driving, but it also includes negligence by omission, such as a failure to post a “beware of dog” sign if someone leaves their dog out in the yard.
Adults are found negligent if they violated a reasonable standard of care.
The matter becomes more complicated if another child was found to be at fault. However, there are many instances where the parents were sued because their child was found to be acting in a negligent manner under the legal standard of negligent supervision.
There are three types of damages that can be collected in a personal injury lawsuit:
Economic – for accidents involving minors, economic damages are primarily medical-related (bills for emergency room visits, physical therapy, etc.). Parents have a right to be compensated if they incurred medical costs for their child as a result of someone else’s negligent act(s).
Non-economic – Minnesota law allows for recovery of non-tangible losses such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and emotional distress.
Exemplary – these are called punitive damages and are rarely awarded because they’re designed to punish and make an example out of a person or party who was grossly at fault. Exemplary damages are only justified in the most extreme cases of negligence.
If your child was injured and one of the aforementioned types of damages was incurred, it may be in your child’s interests to consider pursuing legal action—not just to recover immediate damages but for any, that may occur in your child’s future.
Are There Reasons Not to Pursue a Lawsuit?
There are several reasons why parents choose not to pursue a lawsuit if their child was hurt in an accident:
- Just being grateful their child, who was in the accident, is ok. Like Jane’s parents, many simply count their blessings when they find out their child will recover. Children are naturally resilient, which adds to the impression that everything is fine. However, their natural resilience might actually be covering up an injury that will only exacerbate with time and parents must take this into consideration in any instance where their child was hurt when considering a lawsuit.
- Not wanting to upset a family member, school or someone close if they were responsible. This can be one of the most difficult situations for a parent to be in. Social ties are critical for the healthy development of a child and lawsuits can fracture those relationships if a child was hurt and someone close was at fault. However, this is where parents must consider the message that is being sent to their child. What matters more, ensuring full recovery for their child’s damages or maintaining the status quo?
- Putting a child, that was in an accident, through the ordeal of a lawsuit. This may be the most reasonable argument to not pursue a lawsuit for your child following an accident. They might need to focus on their recovery and a time-intensive and stressful lawsuit might seem like it’s not worth the effort. This is where parents must exercise their best judgment and make their decision in their child’s best interest. It can help to contact a personal injury attorney who will outline the process after learning the details of your child’s case.
Help is available
If your child has been in an accident, pursuing legal action in the form of a lawsuit could be the best thing for them and their future. Call an attorney you can trust who will help determine whether there was negligence, loss of damages and if pursuing a lawsuit is the best course of action for you and your child.
If you’re in Minnesota and your child was in an accident, you can contact one of our experienced attorneys for a free consultation. We’re experts in recovering losses for accident victims and would love to hear from you so we can help get your life back to normal.