At best, even minor accidents cause stress and aggravation. At worst, accidents cause injuries and death. While no one should suffer through the effects of a car accident, it’s particularly bad when innocent children are hurt because of another’s negligence. Unfortunately, Alabama personal injury attorneys often see cases involving injured children.
When a child is hurt in a car accident, the law allows parents and guardians to fight for the child’s rights. Read on to learn more about what to do if your child has been injured in a car accident.
Children and Car Accidents: A Serious Problem
When it comes to children and car accidents, there is both good and bad news. The good news is that the number of children harmed in car crashes has steadily decreased since the 1970s. Over the past 50 years, laws requiring seat belts, car seats, and other safety measures have made children much safer.
Unfortunately, car accidents remain a leading cause of death for children. According to the most recent U.S. government statistics, car accidents kill three children and injure another 502 every day.
The situation is the same in our state. The Alabama Department of Public Health reports that car accidents are the leading cause of injury-related death in the state. In 2018, 63 Alabama children died in car crashes. Parents and other caregivers should be prepared to prevent and respond to car accidents involving children.
Who is a “Child” in Alabama?
Before we can discuss what to do if your child has been injured in a car accident, we must define who is a “child” under Alabama law.
Like most people, you’d probably assume that anyone under 18 is a child and anyone over 18 is an adult. This assumption would be correct in most places, but Alabama approaches things differently.
Alabama law states that the age of majority – the age when a person is considered an adult – is 19. You must be an adult to file a lawsuit, sign a contract, or accept a settlement. So, if you are the parent or guardian of an injured child under the age of 19, most of the responsibility for dealing with insurance companies and personal injury lawyers will fall on your shoulders.
Who Can Sue When a Child Has Been Injured in a Car Accident?
Because children can’t file lawsuits on their own, an adult must do so. The question becomes which adults can sue on the child’s behalf. The answer is not as obvious as it might seem.
Under Alabama law, if the injured child’s parents are married, either parent can file a lawsuit. However, if the child’s parents are not married, the law allows the parent with legal custody to file. If a non-parent has legal custody of the child, that person can sue on the child’s behalf.
How Long Do We Have to File a Lawsuit for an Injured Child?
Generally, all Alabama personal injury claims must be filed within two years from the date of the injury. (Lawyers call this time limit the “statute of limitations.”) So, in a normal case, if a car accident occurred on January 5, 2021, the injured party must file suit before January 5, 2023.
However, Alabama treats children’s claims differently. If a child has been injured in a car accident, the statute of limitations does not start until the child’s 19th birthday. The claim must be filed before the child turns 21. (However, all claims must be filed within 20 years of the original accident.)
As you can see, many complicated rules determine when you can file your child’s claim. An experienced Alabama personal injury attorney can guide you through the process.
One more thing: While the law allows you to wait to file your child’s claim, waiting is not a good idea. Witnesses’ memories fade over time. Evidence can be lost. Also, claims for medical bills must be filed within two years regardless of the injured person’s age. So, it’s best to file your claim as soon as possible. Again, a qualified Alabama car accident attorney can help you with the process.
Can I Accept a Settlement on My Child’s Behalf?
In short, “no.” If your child has been injured in a car accident, the law allows you to file suit. But the law does not allow you to accept a settlement on your child’s behalf – even if the money is desperately needed. Bad parents often agree to a bad settlement simply to end things quickly. Worse, they sometimes steal the child’s money.
Alabama law solves this problem by requiring judges to approve all settlements over $5000 in a “pro ami” hearing. In this hearing, the judge will hear from the child, the parents or guardian, and the accident attorney. The judge will also appoint a guardian ad litem. This person’s sole job is to speak on the child’s behalf and protect the child’s interests. After hearing from everyone, the judge will determine if the settlement is a fair one. (Of course, a personal injury attorney could be helpful in this hearing.)
If the judge approves the settlement, the money related to past medical bills and continuing medical care will be given to the parents. The rest is usually placed in a trust account for the child. The child will receive the funds after becoming an adult.
How Can Parents Prevent Children from Being Injured?
Child car crash injuries can be serious. Parents can take many steps to prevent injuries to children, but the best way to reduce the risk is to ALWAYS use car seats or seat belts.
According to the CDC, car seats, booster seats, and seat belts reduce serious and fatal injuries to children by 80 percent. So, make sure that all children are properly restrained in compliance with Alabama law.
Also, if your child has been injured in a car accident, her car seat is no longer safe. Throw it away. Do not use it, donate it, give it away, or abandon it. Your insurance company should reimburse you for the car seat. Many Alabama organizations offer free car seats to those in need.
Collins Law, LLC: Alabama Personal Injury Experts
Hopefully, this article has helped you learn what to do if your child has been in a car accident. If you, your child, or anyone else has been in an accident, contact Collins Law, LLC today. Our accident attorneys work hard to provide each client with helpful legal counsel. Call 205-588-1411 or click here to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.