Do Minors Have Longer to File a Personal Injury Claim?
The law provides a process for those who have been wronged by others to seek compensation for their losses. But that window of opportunity is only open for a specific period of time. If an action for the recovery of damages is not pursued in that limited time frame, the legal right to seek compensation is gone.
Statutes of limitation specify the amount of time someone can be held responsible for the wrong they have done and the damage they have caused. The clock begins running on the date the injury occurs. Though there is little that can be done once a limitation period has expired, there are some circumstances that delay the start of the countdown. Minors with personal injury claims can effectively extend statutes of limitation years into the future.
Why Statutes of Limitation Exist
Statutes of limitation exist for criminal as well as civil wrongs. Limiting the time for bringing legal actions serves three main purposes.
- Resolve matters quickly. Timely resolution of legal issues promotes accountability and justice.
- No stale claims. It is not appropriate that a person should have to worry about potential criminal or civil penalties for an open-ended period of time (except in cases where serious crimes have been committed).
- Evidence is fresh. The more time that goes by the greater the chances that information won’t be available that might help either party prove their case. Memories fade. Documents can get lost or discarded.
The Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Louisiana
Personal injury statutes of limitation vary among the states. Two or three-year statutes of limitation tend to be the most common. Louisiana has a one-year statute of limitations which is the shortest time period for bringing personal injury claims in the United States.
However, that one-year statute of limitations does not apply to the personal injury claims of minors. The one-year time period does not begin to run until a minor turns 18 (or becomes legally emancipated). So the claim of a 4-year-old injured in a car accident can still be made when the child reaches 18 years – some 14 years later – and will face the same problems that statutes of limitation are designed to avoid.
What Typically Happens When a Minor is Injured
When a child is injured, having to wait to make a personal injury claim until they reach age 18 is usually not practical since the need for compensation is now. But minors are not allowed to file lawsuits in Louisiana. So as an alternative to minors having to sit on their claims until they become adults, the persons legally responsible for an injured minor are given the right to bring a lawsuit for them.
A tutor is a person who has the legal responsibility for the care of a minor child in Louisiana. The tutor serves the same function as a guardian in other states. There are four types of tutorship. They are tutorship by nature, will, law, and judicial appointment.
Parents are the natural tutors of their children and are allowed to bring an action for damages on their behalf. However, parents are not given complete freedom when it comes to negotiating a settlement for a child’s injury claims. Any potential settlement is subject to review and approval by the court to make sure it is in the best interests of the child.
How Parents of an Injured Minor Child may also Receive Compensation
Compensation awarded to a minor may include current and future medical expenses as well as pain & suffering and any limitations affecting their quality of life. Parents are allowed to recover for the costs and inconvenience caused by having to provide greater care to an injured child. Parents may need to miss work and travel considerable distances to get a child to a medical appointment. Parents may also incur additional out-of-pocket expenses due to a child’s injuries.
Sometimes parents can make a claim for emotional distress because they had to experience seeing their child injured. Louisiana allows certain family members such as parents to make a claim for mental anguish caused by either witnessing their loved one become injured or coming upon and viewing the injury scene shortly after the injury occurs.
What Happens with a Minor Child’s Personal Injury Compensation Award
In Louisiana, a court that is considering approval of a settlement or judgment awarding compensation to a minor can order that the funds be held in particular types of interest-bearing or investment accounts and only taken out with court approval.
In certain situations where periodic payments will be necessary for an extended amount of time, a court may order a structured settlement to ensure the future availability of needed funds. Structured settlements are underwritten by financial services companies so that payments are guaranteed over a specific amount of time.
A court will consider the following when determining whether a periodic payment schedule is in the best interests of a minor.
- Current age and life expectancy
- Current and future financial needs
- Tax implications of the payments
- How payments affect eligibility for government benefits
- Present value of payments and the method for determining their value
Things to Consider Before Bringing a Personal Injury Claim on Behalf of a Minor Child
Personal injury claims involving minors can have issues that personal injury claims made by adults don’t have to consider. Because children are not yet fully grown or developed, how their injuries may impact them as adults can be difficult to calculate. It is important to understand as much as possible the damage that has been caused by the injury and to anticipate whether there may be lifelong consequences that should be compensated.
Working with a personal injury attorney who has experience representing injured children gives parents access to the knowledge and resources they need to bring a successful claim on behalf of an injured minor and helps ensure that the child’s current and future financial needs will be adequately identified and provided for.