Third Involving Girl Is On Tuesday. Why So Many?
This week I was in court finalizing two cases where small children were hit by big vehicles. And I will be in court on Tuesday where the young front seat passenger was seriously injured when her driver started ingesting drugs and crashed into the concrete median.
What in the world is going out there?
Fortunately all three young ladies have recovered from their injuries. I don’t know why we have so many pedestrian injuries. But a lot of good questions were asked by the parents about the legal process so I wanted to discuss how the personal injury case of a child differs from an adult’s.
For an example, today’s hearing involved a two year old who was walking next to her mother holding her hand in a crosswalk next to I-20 last year. They had the “walk” sign. Suddenly a young woman ran into them with her SUV. Then after apologizing, the woman fled the scene and could not be found.
I went to the scene and located several eyewitnesses. I then tracked down the driver and made her admit fault. I worked with the mother to get her daughter the medical, dental, and psychological help she needed, paying for some of this treatment up front so the mother didn’t have to. She was also badly injured and I assisted her in every way possible with her case.
I later negotiated with several adjusters and attorneys and collected the entire insurance limits from three different policies for both the mother and her daughter. To put more money into the four year old’s recovery, I reduced my attorney’s fee, waived expenses, slashed medical bills, and shopped for the best annuity plan which will allow the girl to attend college. The mother was thrilled — her very kind review is here.
Wednesday’s case successfully resolved the case where a seven year old girl was crashed into by a truck driver who refused to stop for her school bus on the side of the road with its red lights flashing. She broke her leg and required surgery. I again maxed out the driver’s large liability insurance policy, reduced my client’s medical bills, cut my fees, didn’t charge expenses, and set up a favorable annuity for her college tuition. I also made the driver’s insurance company pay a large sum for the emotional distress of the girl’s brother who was standing next to her and could have also been hit. My client was also very happy with the outcome.
What you need to know about how to handle a minor’s injury claim
- These cases can have a huge potential. The child will not be held at fault. Medical bills and other damages are easily determinable. Since children are sympathetic, the damage argument is often far greater than it would be for an adult.
- The parent files the lawsuit on behalf of the child. Whether the child is 17 or a baby, only the parent or “next friend” has the authority to represent the child’s interests in Texas. The upside is that the parent will control the details, approve the final amount, make sure outstanding medical bills are paid, and be repaid for bills and expenses he or she has incurred. No preapproval by a court or agency is necessary and there is no minimum amount of damages, as in other states.
- Damages may include more than just medical bills. An injury lawyer can always make the insurance company include compensation for physical pain, impairment, and disfigurement and frequently make it add a large amount for emotional distress (as in the cases described above). Note that these claims belong to the child, who cannot receive the proceeds until he or she is an adult.
- Sometimes the parent or child can get money before he or she reaches the age of 18. This depends on the facts of the case, the attorneys, the insurance companies, and judge, but critical needs can be prepaid. Say the teenager needs more medical or dental work after the case goes to court or he or she gets a job after school and needs a car to get there. And parents can request that they be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenditures, lost wages, and other expenses, although I always try to talk my clients out of this since it takes money away from their child’s recovery.
- The funds are divided up. Medical expenses, insurance company subrogation interests, and attorney’s fees and expenses will be allocated. The balance will be paid to the child.
- The child will probably not get all of his money when he turns 18. Usually a judge is loathe to give very much of the award to a teenager — and for good reason. No one wants a young person without financial experience to “blow” the money on a new car or boyfriend, for example.
- A “structured annuity” will be required. The courts I practice in uniformly require a “college fund” be established that divides the bulk of the money into four years, from ages 18 through 22, often with larger payments happening on the 25th or even later birthday. The money is tax-free and grows tax-deferred and expenses are relatively minor. The growth of the fund usually far exceeds the paltry rise that today’s meager interest rates provide if the money is not put into an annuity.
- Unless the amount of the settlement is smaller. Settlements that are under $10,000.00 or so may be invested in what is called the registry of the court, earning a little interest, and awarded to the teen when he or she reaches the age of 18.
- Another attorney will help monitor the court proceeding for you. To make sure that the settlement amount is fair and that every thing is handled correctly, the court is required to appoint a guardian ad litem. He or she is an attorney who will meet or speak with the parents, review the file, study medical records and bills, make sure that all bills have been paid, and report to the judge. I am often appointed by judges to do this and always fight to reduce medical bills and liens and locate other sources of funds, as with the case this coming Tuesday where a teenager will be receiving the sum of $100,000 before medical bills (which I greatly reduced). The insurance company will pay this attorney’s fee so he is free to you and two heads are better than one.
- This process is called a “friendly lawsuit.” It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But the system moves much more quickly than the typical contested lawsuit, especially if your attorney pushes the case to a quick hearing. When all legal documents are negotiated and signed, the judge presides over what is called the “prove up” where you, the attorneys, and ad litem get the court to approve the settlement. I give my clients a list of questions and answers to the usual questions, prepare them for what the other attorneys might ask them, show them where they will stand in the courtroom, and try to relax them. But the hearing is not contested and is less formal that the trials that we see in movies and TV shows so is friendly.
I will take all steps to protect your rights if your child has been injured in a car or truck collision. I know it’s every parent’s nightmare but a skilled Dallas Fort Worth injury attorney can help keep a terrible event like a car wreck from getting worse. Please contact me if you have any questions.