This is a frequently asked question we encounter in our personal injury department.
It is indeed possible to make a claim on behalf of a child where they have been involved in an accident. The process to do so is relatively straightforward and is ultimately designed to protect the interests of the child.
Who will represent my child?
If a child is under the age of 18, they cannot represent themselves in their claim and require the services of a litigation friend who must be over the age of 18. The litigation friend is usually the child’s parent but can be another family member or close friend. For example, if the child is a passenger in a vehicle and their mother caused the accident, the child’s mother cannot represent the child in a capacity of litigation friend, and so another family member, such as the child’s father, or another family member (provided they are over 18) would have to fulfil the litigation friend role.
What is the role of the litigation friend?
The role of the litigation friend is to represent the child and to act in their best interest and to conduct court proceedings fairly and competently. They make important decisions in the claim on behalf of the injured child.
The child would have to have a medical examination to prove their injuries, the litigation friend and child both having to attend the medical appointment.
How long will the claim take to settle?
A child cannot settle their claim until they have made a full and complete recovery from their injuries detailed in the medical experts report. This is because a court has to approve settlement of a child’s compensation award at an informal hearing called “infant approval”. The court would not approve any settlement reached between the parties where the judge is not satisfied that the child has made a full recovery, or accepts that the child’s symptoms are permanent. This safeguards the interests of the child and ensures that the settlement reached and subsequently approved by the court represents an appropriate compensation award.
Also, in order to safeguard the child’s interests, the court invests the child’s compensation award into an investment account until the child reaches 18, when the compensation and any interest accrued will be paid out to the child.
What happens at an infant approval hearing?
The infant approval court hearing is fairly informal, and is to be attended by the child and the litigation friend. The identity of the child is generally proven by producing the original birth certificate to the court at the hearing. The judge will question the litigation friend regarding the child’s recovery and may also ask some informal questions of the child, dependent on their age. If the judge is then satisfied with the recovery made, and the amount of compensation agreed between the parties, then he will order that the compensation award is approved in full and final settlement of the claim and order investment of the award until the child reaches 18.
There are exceptional occasions where the litigation friend can request access to some of the compensation award before the child reaches 18, but generally a very compelling reason must be given to the judge, for example to pay for educational items but in general the courts preference is to invest all of the compensation award until the child reaches 18.
At Stephensons, our personal injury team have represented significant numbers of injured children, and if you do unfortunately find yourself in a position where a child has suffered injury as a result of the negligent actions of someone else, then please do not hesitate to contact us on 0175 321 6399.