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As a general rule of thumb, the law assumes children do not have the same type of educated, well-informed judgment as adults.
Therefore, when children are involved in personal injury cases, there are a variety of special rules for liability and compensation that could apply, depending on the child’s age and the circumstances of the case.
Here is a brief overview of these circumstances.
When a child is injured
If the injured party in a case is a child, the case generally proceeds in the same way. A child has the right to compensation for any pain and suffering, disability and other results of serious injuries he suffered, in the same amounts as an adult in the same circumstances would receive. Parents in such cases also have a separate right to be compensated for medical bills they paid on behalf of their child.
A child cannot negotiate a claim on his or her own behalf, so parents are allowed to negotiate on the child’s behalf instead. In some cases, the parent is required to seek court approval to do so before the child’s claim can be settled, though this process is generally quick and straightforward, and usually involves filling out a form and filing it in court.
When a child causes an injury
Matters become more complicated when the child is the one accused of causing an accident that led to an injury. The general principles of legal liability are the same for minors as they are for adults—the same ideas of care and carelessness apply.
The main difference, however, is in the standards of care expected out of a child versus an adult. Minors, especially young children, simply do not have the same type of understanding of risks that adults do. Very young children (younger than seven years) are not usually considered liable for accidental injuries, as they are too young to understand their carelessness. However, parents or legal guardians may be held liable if they were negligent in their failure to control the child.
Once a child has reached an age where he or she can be expected to know right from wrong, that child can be held responsible for intentional injuries he or she caused. Intentionally hurting another child, or intentionally throwing a rock off a bridge at a passing car (leading to an accident) are examples of intentional actions that could lead to the child and/or the parents being held liable.
Older children, such as tweens, are usually held liable for negligent conduct if they did not behave to the same standards of care expected of other reasonably careful children of the same age. Once children reach their middle teenage years, they are often held to the same standards of care as an adult. A minor driving a car, for example, is held to the same standards as an adult driving a car.
Though minors do not have much money of their own to pay in settlements, there are still ways for a person who has been injured by a minor to recover compensation. These methods include insurance payouts and lawsuits against the minor that result in payments from the minor’s parent.
For more information about the various elements associated with personal injury cases involving minors, contact a skilled attorney at Robinson & Yablon, P.C.