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Children and Personal Injury Law: Special Considerations in Pennsylvania

November 9, 2023

Children and Personal Injury Law: Special Considerations in Pennsylvania

When we talk about personal injury cases, most of us think of adults suffering due to someone else’s negligence. However, what many may not realize is that children can also be victims. The state of Pennsylvania, like many other jurisdictions, recognizes the unique circumstances surrounding minors in personal injury situations. Here, we will delve deep into the special considerations regarding children and personal injury law in the Keystone State.

The firm leading the way in these specific cases in Pennsylvania is Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C. They understand the nuanced aspects of the law and how it affects children differently than adults.

Legal Rights of Minors

Children, like adults, have the right to be protected from harm and to seek compensation when they suffer injuries due to someone else’s negligence. However, the legal landscape surrounding minors’ rights in personal injury law is distinct from that of adults. Here’s an overview of the crucial legal rights of minors in the realm of personal injury:

Right to Compensation

  • Medical Bills Coverage: Just as adults have the right to seek compensation for injuries, so do minors.
  • Pain and Suffering: This compensation can cover medical bills, future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more.

Representation in Court

  • Guardian ad Litem: Minors cannot legally represent themselves or make specific decisions in court. In personal injury cases, a guardian ad litem – usually a parent or legal guardian – is appointed to represent the child’s best interests.

Statute of Limitations Flexibility

  • Extended Filing Period: The “clock” for the statute of limitations (the period within which a lawsuit must be filed) often doesn’t start until the minor reaches the age of majority. For instance, if a state has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims and a child gets injured at age 12, the time frame to file the claim might extend until the child turns 20, rather than ending when the child is 14.

Settlement Approval

  • Court Oversight: To protect minors from unfair settlements, many jurisdictions require that any personal injury settlement involving a minor be approved by a court. This ensures that the compensation is in the child’s best interest and is used appropriately for their needs.

Special Damages Calculations 

  • Future Lost Wages: Economic and non-economic damages for minors can be unique. For instance, predicting future lost wages for a child who hasn’t yet entered the workforce is complex and requires expert testimony.

Parental or Guardian Claims

  • Medical Bill Reimbursement: In addition to the child’s claim, parents or guardians might have their own separate claims to compensate for medical bills they’ve paid or will pay on behalf of their child.
  • Non-Economic Damages: They might also claim non-economic damages, such as loss of the child’s services or companionship.

Confidentiality Rights

  • Privacy Protections: Minors have a right to privacy, especially in sensitive or traumatic cases. Courts often make allowances to protect a minor’s identity or details of their injuries from becoming public.

Legal Consent Limitations

  • Understanding of Risks: If a minor’s injuries are a result of their own actions, there’s a question of whether they are legally capable of giving consent. For instance, a minor involved in a risky activity might not be deemed legally capable of understanding and accepting the associated risks in the same way an adult would.

Understanding the legal rights of minors in personal injury cases is essential for parents, guardians, and legal professionals alike. Children require special protections and considerations in the legal system, ensuring their best interests are always at the forefront.

How Cases Differ for Children

When a child is involved in a personal injury case, the dynamics shift and unique challenges arise. Children, due to their age, development, and vulnerability, require special considerations that differ from adult personal injury cases. Let’s delve into the intricacies of how personal injury law deals with minors and what makes their cases stand apart:

Nature and Impact of Injuries

  • Developmental Considerations: Children’s bodies and minds are still in the development phase. An injury that might seem minor for an adult can have long-term repercussions for a child. For instance, a traumatic brain injury can have a more pronounced effect on a child’s cognitive development than on an adult’s established cognitive functions.

Assessment of Damages

  • Economic Damages: Estimating lost future earnings for a child can be particularly challenging. Unlike adults with a work history, children haven’t entered the workforce yet. Experts might be needed to evaluate the child’s potential earning capacity based on various factors like education, interests, and any lasting impact of the injury.
  • Non-economic Damages: Quantifying pain and suffering, emotional distress, or loss of life enjoyment for children can be distinct. For instance, the trauma from an injury might lead to a child requiring therapy, facing educational challenges, or missing significant milestones.

Consent and Comparative Negligence

  • Legal Capacity: Children cannot legally provide the same kind of consent as adults. If a minor’s actions played a role in the injury, courts often evaluate the child’s capacity to understand the risks associated with those actions. This can influence how liability is determined.

Settlements and Structured Payouts

  • Financial Management: Given that children cannot directly control their finances, settlements are often structured differently. Funds may be placed in trust or set up as periodic payments to ensure the child’s financial well-being as they grow.

Guardian Ad Litem

  • Child’s Best Interests: In certain situations, a court may appoint a guardian ad litem—an individual who represents the child’s best interests throughout the legal process. This is especially common when there’s a potential conflict of interest between the child and the parents or guardians.

Court Approvals

  • Oversight: Settlement agreements in child personal injury cases typically require court approval. This extra layer of oversight ensures the child receives fair compensation and that funds are allocated in the child’s best interest.

Statute of Limitations

  • Extended Filing Opportunity: As mentioned earlier, the time frame for filing a lawsuit can be extended for minors. This is to ensure they have ample opportunity to seek compensation when they reach adulthood if they choose to.

Emotional and Psychological Impact

  • Long-Term Effects: Traumatic events can have a lasting psychological impact on children, potentially more so than on adults. Their understanding, processing, and coping mechanisms for traumatic events are different. This can introduce additional considerations into the case, such as long-term counseling or therapy.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer at Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C. for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today

Dealing with personal injury cases involving minors is intricate, requiring a deep understanding of the nuances of the law. Pennsylvania provides safeguards to protect the rights of children in these situations, but it’s crucial to have legal representation that understands these complexities.

If your child has been the victim of a personal injury in Pennsylvania, you deserve legal counsel that specializes in this area. Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C. has the expertise and experience to guide families through these challenging times. Don’t navigate this process alone; ensure that your child’s rights and future are protected.

Contact us today to discuss your case and ensure the best possible outcome for your child.