There is nothing more difficult for a parent than dealing with an injury to their child. All of us with children probably went to the emergency room when an unfortunate accident occurred and know the helpless feeling of your child being hurt.
Children get hurt, but it is tough to accept when some third party injures your child through their negligence or gross neglect. For over three decades, we have protected children’s rights after an injury accident and handled hundreds of lawsuits against daycare providers.
This article covers the basics of a minor’s personal injury claim in Texas.
What Is A “Next Friend”?
Personal injury claims of children under 18 in Texas are handled differently from personal injury cases of an adult. Because a minor does not have the legal capacity to sue or be sued, personal injury litigation comes in the form of an adult “standing in” for the injured minor as “next friend.”
Usually, this is one or more of the injured child’s parents. However, if a parent cannot do so, anyone may stand in as a “next friend” for an injured child.
Settlements For An Injury To a Child in Texas
If a minor’s injury claim is settled, the defendant’s counsel usually requires a hearing in front of the judge in the court where the lawsuit is filed. The court will appoint an attorney to represent the interests of the minor.
That lawyer is called an “ad litem” and advises the judge whether the settlement terms are in the child’s best interest. The defendant customarily pays the cost of the attorney to represent the minor’s interests at the hearing.
An Ad Litem Is an Attorney Who Ensures Fairness For The Child
An “ad litem” is a lawyer picked by the judge and is, in addition to the attorney who handled the case on behalf of the injured minor and the family. In a court hearing, the judge approves the decisions made on behalf of the child. This includes the settlement and determining how the funds will be kept for the minor.
What is a Minor Settlement Hearing?
A Minor Settlement Hearing is a crucial legal proceeding designed to evaluate and approve or disapprove the settlement of a personal injury case on behalf of a minor under 18. In these situations, the law recognizes that minors are not considered to have the legal capacity to make decisions on their own. Therefore, the purpose of a Minor Settlement Hearing is to ensure that the settlement reached is fair and in the minor’s best interests.
During this non-adversarial hearing, an appointed attorney called an “ad litem” plays a crucial role in advocating for the rights and well-being of the child. The judge selects this attorney and works with the lawyer who handled the case on behalf of the injured minor and their family. The ad litem attorney ensures that the settlement and other decisions made on behalf of the child are just and equitable. They also assist in determining how the funds from the settlement will be managed and preserved for the minor’s future needs.
The Minor Settlement Hearing is typically a brief proceeding, usually lasting only 10 minutes, as all parties involved should have already agreed on the decisions. However, creating a comprehensive record of the case is essential; therefore, testimony may be taken during the hearing. To adequately prepare for the hearing, your attorney will review the questions with you beforehand, ensuring you understand the process and are ready to provide any necessary information.
Once the judge reviews and approves the settlement, all parties involved, including the minor, their representative, legal counsel, the attorney for the settling party, and the court, will sign a release document. This signifies the finalization of the settlement and ensures that the agreed-upon terms are legally binding.
In summary, a Minor Settlement Hearing is a vital legal process that safeguards the rights and interests of minors involved in personal injury cases. It involves appointing an ad litem attorney, who works alongside the minor’s legal representative, to ensure fairness throughout the proceedings. The court aims to protect the minor’s well-being and secure their future needs by thoroughly examining the settlement and determining how the funds will be managed.
Why are Minor Settlement Hearings Required?
Minor settlement hearings are required for several reasons:
1. Protection of the minor’s best interests: One of the primary purposes of a minor settlement hearing is to ensure that any agreement reached is in the best interests of the minor involved. During the hearing, an independent evaluator known as a guardian ad litem presents their assessment to the court, verifying that the settlement is in the minor’s best interests. This evaluation provides an unbiased perspective that assists the court in making a fair and informed decision regarding the settlement.
2. Establishment of a comprehensive record: Another important aspect of minor settlement hearings is creating a formal record. By holding a hearing, all parties involved in the settlement can present their views, concerns, and agreement terms before the court. Having a clear and detailed record ensures no ambiguity regarding the settlement terms and demonstrates that all parties fully understand and consent to the agreement being entered into. This record can be valuable in the event of any future disputes or issues that may arise.
3. Safeguarding the settlement funds: Minor settlement hearings also safeguard the settlement funds until the minor reaches the legal age to make decisions regarding those funds independently. The court’s involvement ensures that the settlement funds are appropriately managed and protected, minimizing the risk of mismanagement or misuse. This safeguards the minor’s financial interests and helps to ensure that the funds are available for their future needs, such as education, medical expenses, or other necessary expenses.
In summary, minor settlement hearings are required to protect the minor’s best interests, establish a comprehensive record, and safeguard the settlement funds until the minor is of legal age.
What Happens With The Money
When a minor’s personal injury claim is funded, it usually takes one of two forms. Either the money is placed in the court registry to be paid to the minor when the minor turns 18, or the settlement funds are used to purchase an insurance policy called an annuity, which is also called a structured settlement and can be paid out at various times after the child becomes of age.
Parents can have substantial input on whether the money is placed in the registry of the court or an annuity insurance policy is purchased. Annuities benefit from being more flexible and paying and do not usually wholly fund the money when the minor turns 18.
Based on our three decades of experience as daycare negligence lawyers, minors are usually not very good at shepherding their money when they are still teenagers. For this reason, many people choose the annuity route that allows a more extended payout after the children become more experienced.
Some structured settlements or annuities fund college and provide monthly payments during the college years. Others can be used to pay when the child gets older, such as when the child is 30 or even 40. For larger settlements, the benefits are not uncommon to become lifetime benefits at specific stages of life.
What About Parents?
One area of concern for many parents is the individual damages when their child is injured (missed work, etc.)
Some courts in Texas see the obligation to provide for a child as a parent’s legal responsibility. Many courts are reluctant to reimburse the parents for out-of-pocket medical expenses from a child’s settlement.
But liens like a hospital lien must usually be paid out of any settlement proceeds. However, how the money is handled is up to the judge in the case.
In short, the settlement funds for an injured minor in Texas will generally belong to the minor and not the parent, and the court makes a great effort to protect the child’s interest.
Speak with a Houston Child Injury Lawyer
If your child has been seriously injured in an accident caused by another, such as a car accident, daycare injury, or other accident. In that case, you should consider contacting an experienced child injury lawyer immediately after the event.
Documenting the injuries during recovery through photographs or video is also essential. Early investigation can sometimes pay dividends when the conduct of a third party is in question regarding causing an accident.
Contact Baumgartner Law Firm for a free consultation about your child’s injury case.
Call (281) 587-1111. Never a fee unless we win your case.
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