Can an injury claim be made by a child, and how is the child interests safeguarded?
We are often asked for guidance on an injury claim made by a child where they have been involved in an accident that was not their fault. In particular people ask whether children are entitled to make a claim.
The answer to this question is a resounding “Yes”. In fact, not only are children allowed to bring a claim for compensation, there is a legal obligation on the parents and guardians to pursue such a case where the child is likely to have reasonable prospects of succeeding.
By and large, the same rules apply to children’s claims as to adult’s, though there is an extra level of protection in place to ensure that a child receives justice. Any settlement of a young person’s accident claim (and by young, we mean under 18) must be approved by a court – even where a negotiated settlement has been reached without court proceedings being commenced.
These “infant approval hearings” are generally short and informal. In most cases the settlement that has been reached between the child’s solicitor and the defendant’s representative is rubber stamped by the court. However, the judge will need to be convinced that the settlement is a fair one and in the child’s best interests. Occasionally a judge will require further evidence and send the parties’ lawyers away to get it or even tell them to renegotiate the settlement.
In more serious cases, it is common for a barrister to appear at the hearing on the child’s behalf, but generally the infant approval hearing will be attended by the solicitor.
Obviously, younger children are unable to appoint an accident claim solicitor themselves. Accordingly, the law requires all minors under the age of 18 to have a responsible adult acting for them, known as a Litigation Friend. The solicitor then deals direct with the Litigation Friend and seeks the Litigation Friend’s approval of any proposed compensation settlement.
At the approval hearing the judge will not only consider whether the settlement is fair and reasonable, but also whether there are sufficient safeguards in place to protect the compensation itself. Normally the payout will be invested by the court so that it can be released to the claimant when they attain the age of 18. However, judges will often agree to release limited funds to the parents or Litigation Friend for the immediate benefit of the child. We have dealt with many such cases, with money for computers and educational equipment being a common request, along with funds for school trips and holidays.