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  • How does a child collect money from the other driver's insurance company?
  • Is the money paid now?
  • What can it be used for?
  • Do I have to file a lawsuit and go to court?
  • Will my child have to testify?

LEGAL PROCESS WHEN A CHILD IS INJURED IN A CAR ACCIDENT

The parents should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. He or she can usually represent all people injured in the collision, including the parents if they were the driver or passenger. One or both of them will represent their child/children as their guardian or "next friend." The car accident attorney will attempt to negotiate a favorable settlement, depending on the facts of the case. If this can be accomplished, the adults can settle their claims and and receive their proceeds immediately. If a good settlement cannot be reached, the injury lawyer will file a lawsuit. However, the child cannot be paid until he or she reaches the age of 18 and is emancipated. Until then, they obviously do not have the legal capacity to make decisions, including hiring an attorney or settling a personal injury claim. Instead, the parents will approve the final settlement or decide to file a lawsuit. Many times, an attractive settlement can be attained. At that time, the parents' lawyer files what seems like an oxymoron -- a"friendly lawsuit" where the details have been agreed to in advance.

THE ROLE OF THE GUARDIAN AD LITEM

The judge appoints a guardian ad litem to represent the child's best interests. They investigate the case, meet with the parents, consult with the attorneys involved, and study the medical records and bills. They advise the court whether the offer is fair, all medical bills have been paid or will be paid, and the needs of the child have been carefully considered. When I am appointed by a judge as the guardian ad litem, I also reduce or further cut down outstanding medical bills and liens to get the child a larger recovery of money. The parties appear before the judge (by Zoom during the pandemic) at a hearing. The minor child does not need to attend. The court hears the testimony and normally approves the settlement. This hearing is required or the child could file a lawsuit when he or she attains the age of 18. A record is made showing that the parents and the insurance company understood the legal details to prevent future disputes. The fee for the guardian ad litem is paid for by the insurance company.

WHAT CAN THE FUNDS FOR A CHILD INJURED IN A CAR ACCIDENT BE USED FOR?

The money belongs to the child, not the parents. The funds cannot be paid to someone even if they are 17.
The money cannot be given to the parents before then. The funds are solely for the use and benefit of the child injured in a car accident and as a matter of law, have to be protected for the child's future. You occasionally hear of stories like one in Utah where several months ago, a man was recently charged with felony theft for stealing his daughter's substantial settlement.
A court allows the minor child's funds to be used to pay for things that directly help the child, particularly paying medical bills and liens. If there are future medical expenses, they are the responsibility of the parents until the child turns 18.  If the child is still undergoing medical treatment, the case should be postponed until he or she has recovered and the value of the claim can be determined. The parents' lost wages caring for the child are not reimbursed. Special educational needs (e.g. an arts program the parents cannot afford for a budding artist) can occasionally be paid from the funds. Buying a car is rarely allowed unless there is a compelling reason. I am involved in a case now where a 15-year-old really wants to start driving when he turns 16. I have explained to the mother that unless that is the only way he can get to school, this will not be approved by a judge.

HOW IS THE MONEY INVESTED ?

There are two choices for how the money is distributed. A. Annuity: This is a guaranteed insurance contract that will be used when the amount of the settlement is higher. There are different plans that can pay money on different payout schedules. Most courts like to see a "college plan" where money is divided between ages 18 - 22 in annual, semi-annual, or monthly payments. Other schedules can be chosen by the parents. This is preferable to giving a large sum of money to the just turned 18-year-old who can plunk the money down on a new car or take a vacation. The advantages to an annuity is that the funds are protected and offer favorable interest rates and tax benefits.
B. Registry of the court: (the bank account administered by the county).However if the child's settlement is relatively small, usually less than $10,000, payment can often be made up front. That is because most annuity companies cannot fund such a small amount of money due to start-up costs. The insurance company writes a check to the county clerk and the money is deposited into the "registry of the court." The fund accrues interest and when the child reaches the age of 18, they can go to the county administration building and with be paid in full. C.  Disability payments: if the car wreck is very serious and the child is disabled, consideration must be given to whether Social Security disability benefits can be paid. If so, a special needs trust may be needed.

IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS

My law firm can answer your questions and help you through what can be a complicated process. We only handle car and truck wreck cases. There are far too many of them in Texas. One just happened this morning here and four children are reported injured. There is never a charge for the first consultation and all legal services and costs are free unless and until you recover money. Please contact our office at 1-885-801-8585 or click here.

Child deaths are incredibly devastating. Why is Texas number one in this horrible statistic and why aren't we doing more to stop them?

Today the Star Telegram sadly reported that Texas has ranked #1 in the country over the past 30 years for child deaths in hot cars and trucks. We have lost 135 of our youngest Texans during that time and the country has lost almost 1,000 small children due to the criminal negligence of their drivers. Here's another terrible fact: Texas somehow suffers twice as many of these tragedies as California, but they have 10 million more people than we do. There should be zero of these 100% preventable child deaths.

Be super careful this time of year, North Texas!

MedStar Ambulance has already responded to several of these potentially tragic incidents in Fort Worth this year. Fortunately, no deaths were reported. But a 4-year-old tragically died in East Texas in April. And in June and July of last year, a 4-year-old and 2-year-old passed away when they were found inside of an oven-like cars outside of Fort Worth and Denton. With temperatures hitting 98 degrees today and 100 degrees on Friday, it's time for this public service announcement. This map shows what it will feel like starting today and for the next few months.

How do these child deaths happen?

When a vehicle is stopped with the air conditioning off, the temperature can quickly soar to 140 degrees. Just because you have cracked open the windows or it's a cloudy day does not give you the right to abandon your child in a hot box. And you probably didn't know that a child's small body heats up three to five times faster than an adult's. The "forgotten baby syndrome" usually happens to first-time parents. They are inexperienced and can be tired, stressed out, or hurried. And the pandemic has savaged family budgets and child care has been jeopardized. But severe heat is a pernicious problem that must be taken seriously. It kills more people than any other weather pattern, including flooding and hurricanes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been publicizing this serious problem. It even created the National Heatstroke Prevention Day on July 31st to increase awareness.

How to prevent hot car child deaths or injuries

It is shocking that the U.S. has lost 1,000 children from vehicular heatstroke in the past 30 years. People must prevent these senseless child deaths by taking these actions:
  1. Don't do it. Never even think about leaving your child so you can go into a store "for a minute."
      2. Leave a reminder. Keep your purse, or cell phone next to the car seat so you must open the back door.       3. Always lock the vehicle. About one-third of these cases happen when a child climbs back inside.       4. Use technology. Create an alert on your cell phone or use Waze or another app to check the back seat.       5. Slow down. This is the same behavior that causes hundreds of thousands of car accidents each year in our country.       6. Call or text the driver. If another person is driving your car, contact them to make sure they arrived safely.       7. Passer-bys must pay closer attention. They can peak inside to make sure car seats are empty.

Signs of heat stroke

Within minutes, heat stroke can shut down the child's organs and even cause brain injury. These are the symptoms of heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps, and sunburn:

Texas laws are too weak

It has been a felony to abandon or endanger a child (defined as someone who is 14 years old or less) since 1985. The Texas Penal Code, Section 22.041 makes the punishment as high as a first degree felony. Further, child deaths from being trapped in hot vehicles are such a huge problem that the state of Texas passed a law a few years ago that requires hospitals and birthing facilities to hand out a pamphlet to warn new parents not to do this. Our children are already extremely vulnerable in a car crash. Our law firm has handled many injury to children cases over the past 40 years. And Mr. Berenson is often appointed by judges to insure that settlements obtained by other personal injury lawyers are fair and reasonable. We need to strengthen our laws and we better publicize this danger.

New federal law could prevent these child deaths

A bill introduced in the last few sessions of the U.S. Congress would have been a major step to prevent any more child deaths. The Hot Cars Act would have required the U.S. Department of Transportation to require all new passenger vehicles to have an alert system. It would detect an occupant (whether a child or animal) left unattended after the engine was turned off. The bill had broad bipartisan support (who could be against this?) but it never passed and has not been reintroduced in 2020. That is hard to believe, especially since there are audible and visible warnings just when the driver leaves the lights on or the keys inside.

Other good tips

Don't forget to do these things as you are outside in our brutal Texas heat. Especially if you are running, walking, or cycling, make sure you are overly hydrated and wearing reflective, cool clothes and a cap. Also take in electrolytes like sodium (salt) and potassium. Stay in the shade and take regular breaks. Stop if you feel any weakness. Get into a cooler environment, raise your feet, lie down, drink water with salt, and apply cold towels and water. On his long runs or bike rides in the summer heat, Mr. Berenson leaves as early as possible and stops in convenience stores to get ice and water. Also, don't forget that your dogs are also at risk. Finally, never leave hand sanitizer inside your car. It will lose its effectiveness and can even explode.

Contact an experienced Fort Worth car accident lawyer

If your child has been hurt in a vehicle crash - the only cases we handle - contact Berenson Injury Law. Negligent drivers often cause harm to children. We have represented their parents for the past 40 years in personal injury cases and will take all steps to get them the maximum compensation.
Call us for a free review of your case at 1-885-801-8585 (817-885-8000) or by email.

Related posts:

Representing minors in personal injury claims Avoiding car accidents with children Helping our children

It was exciting that school began last week but every year, a lot of people forget how much potential danger lurks. That's because roads are more congested in school areas and people won't put down their cell phones, even as kids are darting across the street. School buses pick up and unload over one million kids in Texas. So the need to be hyper-vigilent as we drop children off or make our morning and afternoon drives has greatly increased. Here are some helpful tips that will help stop these preventable car accidents with children.

School started today and the streets of Dallas-Fort Worth have suddenly changed. Roads that were not busy in the morning and afternoon are now crowded school zones. Buses are back on the roads carrying one million of our precious students between their homes and schools in Texas.

Unfortunately there were 671 accidents in school zones throughout Texas during the 2015-2016 school year. UPDATE 8/22/18: The Star Telegram reports that a car crashed into a school bus in north Fort Worth this morning causing one child to be rushed to the emergency room and injuring nine other children. It's only the third day of the new school year. One collision or injury is too many. We adults have to use extreme caution to make sure no more children are injured this year.

Ways to protect our kids

These accidents most often occur as children are walking or riding their bikes to school. When you fail to heed the school zone laws including the slower speed limits, you could be the cause of a child getting injured. We all know how frustrating it is to get stuck behind a slow school bus or waiting while a group of children cross a crosswalk. But these rules protect kids from getting serious injuries. We have to be responsible for them and assume they might be careless.
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