Navigating Personal Injury Claims for Minors: Legal Considerations for Parents

Navigating Personal Injury Claims for Minors

Navigating any personal injury case can be complicated and stressful. That can be magnified when you are a parent managing a personal injury claim on behalf of your child. Both substantive and procedural personal injury laws are a bit different when the injury victim is a minor child. And, a lot of responsibility falls on the child’s parent or legal guardian.

If you are the parent of a minor child who has been injured through someone else’s negligence, your best next step is to consult a local personal injury lawyer. At Harrell & Harrell, we offer free consultations to help parents understand their role in a child’s personal injury case and the best next steps to protect the child’s claim and move toward securing fair compensation.

How Personal Injury Cases Involving Children Are Different

A Minor Cannot File a Personal Injury Lawsuit

A minor child can’t file an injury suit on their own behalf–not even if they were the only one injured in the accident, and not even if they are very close to adulthood. However, if the child turns 18 after the injury occurs and before the statute of limitations has run out, they can file the case on their own behalf.

When the claim is relatively small–not more than $15,000–Florida law allows a parent to act on a minor child’s behalf. However, if the amount at stake is larger, additional safeguards may be required. For example, court approval may be required for a settlement, and the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s interests. A local personal injury attorney is the best source of information about what may be required in your child’s case.

The Statute of Limitations May Be Different for Minors

The general statute of limitations for negligence claims in Florida is two years from the date of the event that caused the injury. For claims that accrued before March 24, 2023, the injured party has four years from the incident to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, Florida law provides for the statute of limitations to be “tolled” in certain circumstances. When the statute of limitations is tolled, the clock temporarily stops running.

One circumstance that tolls the statute of limitations is that the injured party is a minor. In that circumstance, the plaintiff may possibly have up to seven years to file suit. However, there are several qualifications. First, the statute of limitations is only tolled if the minor child doesn’t have a parent, guardian or guardian ad litem, or if that person has been adjudicated incapacitated and so cannot sue, or if that person has an interest adverse to the child’s. That’s a fairly unusual circumstance.

In addition, the statute of limitations will only be tolled for as long as the incapacity to sue exists. So, for example, if a child is injured on their 17th birthday and there is no parent, guardian or guardian ad litem to act on their behalf, the statute of limitations will be tolled. But, on the child’s 18th birthday, they will gain the capacity to sue on their own. So, the clock will start ticking again.

In other words, it’s complicated. Unless and until an experienced local injury lawyer tells you that you have longer, the safest course of action is to assume that the two-year statute of limitations will apply.

The Standard of Care Expected of a Child May Be Different

Under Florida negligence law, an injured person may be found partly responsible for their own injuries. For claims that accrue on or after March 24, 2023, the injured person may still recover damages if they are found partly responsible. However, the amount they can recover is reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to them. And, if the injured person is found more than half responsible, they won’t be able to recover damages at all.

That works a bit differently when the injured party is a child. If the child is under the age of six, they are presumed to be incapable of negligence. That means they can’t be assigned any of the blame for their injuries. An older child may be found partly responsible, However, a child generally won’t be held to the same standard as an adult. That’s because a person is expected to exercise “reasonable care.” The level of care that can reasonably be expected from a 7-year-old child is often very different from what might reasonably be expected from an adult, or even a teenager.

Establishing what level of care is reasonable based on the child’s age and capacity can be complicated, and is best tackled with the help of an injury attorney who is experienced in working with child victims.

The Defendant’s Duty of Care May Be Different

The clearest and most common example of a differing duty of care is in premises liability cases. In Florida, a landowner typically has an extremely limited duty of care to trespassers. However, Florida law makes an exception for child trespassers who are injured due to an “attractive nuisance” on the property. An attractive nuisance can be anything that would be likely to draw a child’s interest and is also dangerous. A landowner with an attractive nuisance on their property can be held liable for injuries to a child trespasser if they failed to take reasonable measures to make the nuisance safe.

If Your Child Has Been Injured, Talk to a Florida Personal Injury Lawyer

If your child was injured through someone else’s negligence, they can’t stand up for themselves. It’s up to you to fight for them and ensure that they have the best chance at recovering compensation that will help them move forward with their lives. That’s a big responsibility, but you don’t have to figure it out alone.

An experienced personal injury attorney at Harrell & Harrell can help you help your child. Your initial consultation is always free and there’s no obligation. Just call us at 904-251-1111 or fill out our contact form to get started.