In the state of California, if a person under the age of 18 is injured in an accident, they are just as entitled to compensation for their damages as any adult. A minor’s settlement agreement is a way to ensure that they receive that compensation. According to state law, the court must approve the settlement whatever the amount may be.
Common Causes of Child Accident Injuries
Unfortunately, there are many ways that a child may become injured accidentally. Some of the more frequent incidents that can lead to a child accident claim are:
- Animal/dog bites
- Birth injuries
- Car accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Pool accidents
- School accidents
- Sports injuries
- Toy injuries
Even though the resulting action is considered an accident, these incidents are often the result of someone else’s negligence. Usually an adult shares liability when these accidents occur because they owed a duty of care to that child in one form or another.
What is a Minor’s Compromise?
When an adult goes about executing a settlement agreement on a minor’s behalf, it is known as a compromise of a minor’s claim. A personal injury settlement agreement is a contract, and people under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter into contracts according to the law. By having an adult act on their behalf as a guardian ad litem, the court can ensure that the minor’s rights and interests are protected. There are many things a minor may require compensation for after being injured in an accident, such as:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
There are also many people between the ages of 14 and 18 years old who are employed and may suffer lost wages while recovering from an accident.
Determining Who the Guardian ad Litem Is
Because the law does not allow minors to enter into contracts, they are also not allowed to agree to settlements, or represent themselves throughout the legal process. This is why in personal injury claims involving minors, a guardian ad litem is necessary. The guardian ad litem is someone who has been approved by the court to represent the minor’s interests. This is usually the minor’s parent or legal guardian. If the parents are together, either parent may be appointed. If the parents are not together, the parent who has custody may be appointed. There are also situations where a nonparent may need to be appointed. The guardian ad litem has no legal right to any of the money the minor is awarded and maintain their role until the minor reaches 18. The court may at any time replace the guardian ad litem if they feel the person is not acting in the minor’s best interests.
Minor Personal Injury Claim Process
The minor personal injury claim processes is governed by California Probate Code Sections 2504.90, 3500.91, 3600.92 and California Code of Civil Procedure Section 372.93. The court oversees the process for several reasons:
- To appoint a guardian ad litem
- To ensure a fair settlement amount
- To provide access to the settlement amount
- To ensure that all of the money is received when the minor reaches adulthood
Obtaining a Minor’s Compromise
After a settlement amount has been agreed upon, the guardian ad litem must obtain court approval by filing a Minor’s Compromise petition. This petition must include the following information:
- Description of the accident
- Description of the injuries
- Description of the claim
- Medical records
- Amount of the settlement
- Terms of the settlement
- List of expenses to be reimbursed
- Explanation of how the funds will be managed
The custodial parent, legal guardian, or guardian ad litem may sign the settlement agreement on behalf of the minor. If the court deems the settlement agreement fair and acceptable, it will be approved and put into a trust for the minor. Any attorney’s fees are first paid out of the settlement proceeds before the money is provided to the trust.
Minor’s Compromise and Release Hearing
After filing, the court will approve the settlement in something called a minor’s compromise and release hearing. There are, however, some situations where an Expedited Minor’s compromise may be filed in order to skip the hearing.
The point of the hearing is so that the court can review the settlement amount and approve it if it is deemed fair compensation. The court is also responsible for approving any costs that need to be paid from the settlement, including attorney’s fees and medical bills. Then, the court details how the minor’s share of the settlement will be managed.
Allocating Minor’s Share
After distributing the funds needed to pay fees and expenses, the rest of the settlement amount belongs to the minor. However, they don’t get it right away. Most of the time, the money is kept safe in a sealed bank account to wait until the minor turns 18. There are occasions when the court may approve of funds being removed from the account before then by a parent or legal guardian if the money is needed for the best interests of the minor.
What if You Can’t Obtain a Minor Compromise Court Approval?
If a minor’s compromise is not approved by the court, the minor has the option of filing a lawsuit themselves once they turn 18. This is not always an ideal option. If the minor is 16 at the time of the accident, it may not make too much of a difference, but if the minor is much younger, it could be detrimental to the case to have to wait so long.
Minor Compromise Considerations
Minor compromises are critical to a minor receiving a fair amount to cover any damages they sustain. There are several considerations that need to be accounted for in order for a minor compromise to be successfully secured.
Where Does the Minor Compromise Need to Be Filed?
If there is no personal injury lawsuit filed, then filing the petition must take place in the county the minor lives in. In the event that the minor is not a resident of California, then the petition must be filed wherever it would be appropriate to file a suit.
If there is a personal injury lawsuit filed, then the court it was filed with is the court where the petition must be filed as well.
What Information Is Needed to Receive a Minor Compromise Court Approval?
A minor’s compromise petition is a verified disclosure of any and all information pertaining to the agreement, such as:
- Personal information of the minor (name, sex, date of birth, etc.)
- Petitioner’s relationship to the minor
- Details of the claim (filed, pending, post-judgment)
- Details of the accident (date, parties, location, summary of events)
- Details of the injury, treatments, and recovery process
- Acknowledgement of the final and binding nature of the settlement
- Details of the settlement amount (terms and where funds are coming from)
- Details of the expenses that will be paid with settlement money
- Details of attorney’s fees and related costs
- Statement of the full amount of the settlement
- Details of how the funds will be handled
- Agreement that the amount is reasonable, fair, and in the minor’s best interest
- Official signatures of petitioners, parties, and attorneys
How Are Minor Compromise Settlement Proceeds Allocated?
There are only a few methods of handling settlement finds for a minor according to California Law.
Blocked Account – The most common way courts choose to handle minor’s settlement funds is by depositing them in a bank account that can not be accessed without a court order to await the minor’s 18th birthday, at which point, the money will be turned over to them. This method is not ideal in situations where the settlement money will need to be accessed frequently before then for things like medical expenses.
Special Needs Trust – In the event that the minor was rendered disabled due to the accident, the court may choose to allocate the money to a special needs trust that will not only protect their assets, but also preserve their eligibility for public benefits when they come of age.
Caretaker – While there are occasions wherein the parent or legal guardian of the minor may be permitted to handle settlement funds under $20,000. This option isn’t favored by most courts so they will tend to place the money in a blocked account instead.
Minor’s Settlement Trust – This option offers more flexibility than a blocked account. These trusts do not require the same strict oversight of the courts that blocked accounts do. The minor may have the option to revoke the trust when they come of age, or they may be able to hold the money in the trust for longer if need be.
Small Settlement Payouts Under $5,000 to Minors
According to California Probate Code Sections 3611(d)94 and 340195, if the settlement amount comes to less than five thousand dollars, the custodial parent of the minor may be permitted to manage the money themselves on behalf of the child without approval or oversight from the court. Because of this, California insurance companies almost always waive the release hearings when the amount of the settlement agrees upon is less than five thousand dollars.
Recoverable Damages in a Child Injury Claim
Just like adults, children are entitled to compensation for damages suffered due to an accident caused by someone else’s negligence. These damages may be economic and non-economic compensatory damages as well as possible punitive damages.
Economic – Also known as special damages, economic damages are the tangible financial costs of an accident. These damages are often proven by financial records such as receipts, bills, and invoices. Examples include but are not limited to:
- Medical bills
- Future medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Property damage
Non-economic – Also known as general damages, non-economic damages are the intangible non-monetary costs of an accident. These damages are often proven by expert testimony of medical professionals and witness statements of family and friends. Examples include but are not limited to:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Disability and disfigurement
- Reduced quality of life
- Post-traumatic stress
Punitive – Intended to punish and deter wrongdoing, punitive damages are awarded very rarely and only when it is proven that the defendant committed a willful or reckless act of malice, oppression, or fraud. Examples of situations where the judge may award punitive damages include but are not limited to:
- Assault & battery
- Drunk driving
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Medical malpractice
Can a Parent Spend the Minor Personal Injury Settlement?
When a minor is awarded financial compensation for an injury, that money belongs to them, not their parents or guardians. The only way a parent or legal guardian may withdraw money from their child’s settlement is if they obtain official permission from the court.
When a settlement is awarded to a minor, the court will generally have the money placed in what is known as a blocked account. Information regarding things like the bank, the account number, and the date of the deposit are all filed with the court. The money is kept secure in that account and can not be touched without a court order.
Some parents may argue that that they need access to the money in order to provide for the child before they come of age. Generally speaking, the courts prefer to have final say in these matters as it is all too common for parents to misuse their children’s money.
If the court does approve of a portion of the funds to go to the parents, it will be for a necessity that directly benefits the child. Things like rent, utility bills, and household groceries are not considered a valid use of a minor’s settlement funds.
What Could a Parent Get Approval for That Would Allow Spending the Personal Injury Settlement?
The California courts are very strict in what they will allow parents to spend their children’s settlement money on. In order to obtain access to the money, the parents must file a request for the court’s approval. This is known as a Petition or Withdrawal of Funds from Blocked Account. Oftentimes, the court may require the parent to attend a hearing and explain exactly what they need the money for and prove that it is necessary and in the child’s best interest.
If the minor is nearly of age, then there is a greater chance that the request may be granted. Things like college tuition may be needed before they actually turn 18. There are however some things that the court may approve a parent utilizing a younger child’s settlement funds for such as medical expenses and educational programs.
Contact Mesriani Law Group if Your Child Has Been Injured Due to Someone’s Negligence
Personal injury lawsuits can be stressful and complicated, but when a child is involved, it can be overwhelming for their parents. Having a personal injury lawyer can be beneficial in a myriad of ways. From collecting evidence, to filing paperwork, and negotiating with insurance companies, your attorney can provide comfort and assistance through this difficult time. Our personal injury attorneys are experienced, hardworking, and dedicated to getting your child the compensation they deserve. If you have a minor child who has been injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.
Personal Injury Settlements for Minors FAQ’s
Can I gain access to my child's settlement money in California?
There are very few occasions in which a parent or legal guardian may access their child’s settlement funds. If the settlement amount is under $5,000 then the judge may allow the parents to manage the funds as they see fit on behalf of their child. However, in most situations, the judge will have the money placed in a blocked account that can not be accessed without a court order. The parents may petition to remove funds from the account before the child reaches adulthood, but they must prove that whatever they need the money for is not only necessary, but in the direct best interests of the child.
Can child support take my personal injury settlement in California?
While there are some states that allow for custodial parents to obtain the full amount of the other parent’s settlement funds to cover unpaid child support, California state law does not. In California, the custodial parent is only allowed to claim the portion of the other parent’s settlement that is meant to compensate lost wages.
What is a minor's compromise California?
People under the age of 18 are not legally allowed to enter into contracts. Since a personal injury settlement agreement is a contract, a loophole is needed to allow children to receive compensation after an accident. A Minor’s Compromise allows for an adult to sign a settlement agreement on the minor’s behalf so that the minor can receive their compensation.
How long does minor injury claim take?
Personal injury cases can vary in length depending on many factors, making it impossible to know for sure how long any one particular case may go on for. It could take anywhere from six months to a few years. When the case involves a minor, that case may become more complicated and take a bit longer. The need to file additional paperwork and to obtain court approval for settlements may also draw out the process.