Although we mainly associate car accidents with adults it is very common for children to be passengers involved in a car accident and if they are injured you may be able to make a claim on their behalf if they have sustained more than minimal injury and the accident was not their fault. Wanstalls are very experienced in claims for children and we would be delighted to talk about your individual circumstances in more detail.
At this stage I should point out that, although they will no doubt beg to differ in opinion, even 17 year olds are still classed as “children” for the purposes of legal proceedings. You remain a child in the eyes of the law until you reach your 18th birthday.
As is the case in adult claims it is necessary that the claim is worth more than £1,000 before a firm of Solicitors can become involved.
As your child is likely to have been a passenger then he/she will not have been at fault in any way and we will be able to make a claim on their behalf against either the driver of the vehicle they were travelling in or the “at fault” driver of the other vehicle involved.
There are differences in the way a child’s claim is dealt with and I will now explain these differences.
As indicated above your child is deemed to be incapable of making decisions about his/her own claim or giving valid instructions to us. In those circumstances you will be asked to nominate a “litigation friend” who will deal with the claim for your child. The “litigation friend” does not necessarily have to be related to the child but it is preferable for one of the parents to act unless, of course, the parent was responsible for the accident when there would be a conflict of interest. The role of the litigation friend would be to give instructions on behalf of the child and the criteria is that the litigation friend has the child’s best interest at heart.
Accepting an offer to settle claim
When the case reaches the stage where the insurers for the at fault driver make an acceptable offer in settlement the litigation friend will be asked to approve the offer. The instruction from the litigation friend is, however, insufficient to conclude the matter as one major difference when dealing with children’s claims is that the claim cannot be settled until the settlement is approved by the Court during an Infant Settlement Hearing. The Judge will want to ensure – among other things – that the child had fully recovered from his/her injuries.
Recovery from injuries
In adult cases it is permissible, and indeed very common, for damages to be agreed before the client has fully recovered from his/her injuries. The client has the right to make the decision that they are confident that recovery is underway and that they will make a full recovery within a relatively short period of time from the prognosis in the medical report. It is not possible to re-open adult cases even it is later transpires that the adult does not recover for some time after the original prognosis.
In child cases, however, it is not advisable to make this decision on behalf of the child. The Judge will want to ensure that the child has fully recovered. The Infant Settlement Hearing is therefore designed to protect the child’s interest and ensure that the compensation is appropriate in the circumstances.
Infant Settlement Hearings
The Infant Settlement Hearing will be heard by a Judge in his/her Chambers rather than in open Court and although it would be necessary for the child and litigation friend to be present the process is not as scary as it sounds. Your Solicitor will attend with you and will assist throughout the Hearing. Although it is possible for someone from the insurance company to attend this rarely happens and it will normally only be you, your child and your Solicitor who attend the Hearing.
Judges understand that the child and their litigation friend are likely to be nervous in attending Court as it is likely to be their first encounter with the Court system. In those circumstances they go out of their way to make everyone feel as comfortable and to make the whole process as painless as possible. The Judge will ask the child (or litigation friend depending on the child’s age) about their injuries and their recovery. If the Judge is satisfied that the child has fully recovered and that the offer is appropriate an Order will be made to settle the case.
Investment of damages
The Judge will then have options as to how to deal with the damages (money) agreed. The money cannot be paid over to the child until they reach 18 but the Judge can order the money to be paid into the Court Funds Office where it will accrue interest (albeit at a low rate) until the child reaches 18 when the money will be paid to the child. If your child’s money is paid into the Court Funds office is very important that you keep them informed of any changes in your child’s address so that the Court knows how to contact him/her when it is time to release the money.
In some cases, however, the Judge may decide to order the money to be paid to the litigation friend to hold for the benefit of the child until he/she attains the age of 18 when the money must be handed over with any interest which has accrued in the meantime. This is often the preferable outcome as the person holding the money then has control over the rate of interest but the decision on how the money is to be paid will be made by the Judge alone. A Judge may decide to use this option if the money involved is low in value or if the child is nearly 18 at the time of the Court Hearing.