You can hold someone legally accountable for injuries to your child.
Injuries to children are a parent’s or caregiver’s worst nightmare. They might even feel uncomfortable or distressing to think about. Still, the reality is that children do get hurt—sometimes severely—and it’s important to know when or if you can receive damages.
If you’re severely injured (as an adult), you might be most worried about how you’re going to pay your bills or earn a paycheck if you’re left with a disability that precludes you from working. Your child likely doesn’t earn an income, but if they are severely injured or their injury caused a disability, they have a lifetime of medical expenses ahead of them that add up fast.
Who can file a lawsuit on a child’s behalf?
If the injured child’s parents are married to each other, they each have an equal right to file a personal injury lawsuit on the child’s behalf.
If they are not married, the parent with legal custody or a legal guardian acting in the child’s best interest are the only people who are permitted to file a claim.
If there is a settlement or verdict that awards damages, the parent must only use that money to care for the child—not for any other purpose.
Alabama courts oversee claims on behalf of children
Any compromise or settlement involving a case for a child must be made with the Court’s or a judge’s approval. The Court will usually appoint a guardian ad litem, which is a stand-in guardian who will represent the child’s legal interests.
When a settlement is reached, the Court holds the money in an interest-bearing account until the child turns 19 years old unless the money is badly needed for medical treatment or education. If that happens, the Court allows the parents to have some of the money in a special conservator account.
Alabama statute of limitations for injuries to children
The statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit is the deadline by which you’re required to file your claim. If you don’t file a lawsuit in the allotted time, the court will not hear your case.
The Alabama statute of limitations is two years from the date of the injury.
However, there are exceptions when it comes to cases involving children. The statute of limitations begins to run when the person turns 19 years old. A parent may file a claim on a child’s behalf until the child’s 21st birthday, but not more than 20 years from the date of the injury. If it was a birth injury or other injury that happened before the baby’s first birthday, they would have 20 years from the date of the injury. If it happened after their first birthday, the parent may file a claim for 20 years from the date of the injury or until the child’s 21st birthday. The injured person (“child”) may also file a claim on their own behalf when they turn 18.
Kids & contributory negligence laws
Alabama follows a pure contributory negligence rule, which means a plaintiff (injured person) can’t recover any damages from a defendant if the plaintiff shared any liability for the accident or injury.
Understandably, a child victim isn’t held to the same standard as an adult.
A child under 7 years old can’t be contributorily negligent, which means their action does not bar them from recovering damages.
A child between the ages of 7 and 14 would be unable to recover damages under contributory negligence if the defendant can show that the child understood the hazard and that their action was the cause of the injury.
A minor over the age of 14 would be treated as an adult for the purpose of contributory negligence.
What if your child caused an accident?
Things happen. Kids are kids. Sometimes accidents happen because they do something that they didn’t intend to be harmful but their judgment wasn’t at the level an adult would (should) have.
However, if someone threatens to sue you over something your child did, the “kids will be kids” argument won’t hold much weight.
In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent. They need to show that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that their action (or inaction) could harm another person. The key here is “reasonably.” The law defines this to mean that the average person would have known how to act in a reasonable way, but the defendant was not reasonable.
The Court accepts that children usually cannot distinguish between what is reasonably safe or dangerous and what isn’t. For example, if a 9-year-old caused an accident or injury, the court would evaluate whether that child had the same intelligence and reasoning skills as an average 9-year-old to determine their liability.
Alabama Parental Responsibility Law
Alabama holds parents financially responsible for damages caused by their children that result in property damage.
Alabama Civil Practice § 6-5-380 holds a parent responsible for damages by their children up to $1,000. If the child causes more expensive damage to property, the property owner could file a lawsuit against the parent. The plaintiff would need to prove that the parents knew that their child had tendencies toward the type of behavior that caused the harm and failed to reasonably supervise their child. That makes the injury foreseeable and the parent could be ordered to pay the full amount of the damages.
Who is liable for my child’s injury?
Everyone has a duty of care to someone else—even if they’ve never met. And that duty changes every day, or even every minute.
For instance, a driver has a duty of care to every other road user. That includes other drivers, pedestrians or bicyclists.
Your child’s school has a duty of care to your child when they’re at school. Their doctor has a duty of care during treatment. Any person whom you entrust to supervise your child when you’re not there has a duty to keep your child safe and free from harm, whether it’s a babysitter, grandma or a neighbor who watches them after school.
If your child was injured because of someone’s negligence because your child wasn’t properly supervised, appropriate care wasn’t taken to ensure their safety, or for some other reason, you might be able to file a lawsuit against that person or entity.
These are complex cases for several reasons. Among them are the specific requirements for following a lawsuit on behalf of a child and the possibility of contributory negligence, depending on the age of your child.
The best way to approach this situation is to contact an Alabama accident lawyer who can guide you through the legal process and advise on your options.
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