By Jed McKeehan
Occasionally I will have a family come see me who have been involved in a car wreck and the parents and the children have all received injuries as a result of the wreck. When this happens each and every single person involved in the car wreck has their own ability to bring a lawsuit against the driver who caused the wreck.
How does it work though, when a small child is the one who is injured? Do they have to hire their own attorney? Of course not. The child’s parents are the ones who can pursue a cause of action on behalf of the child. They do not have to do so, but they can.
Even though on personal injury cases, people who are injured only have one year in order to file a lawsuit against the person who hurt them, when a child is hurt, they have until their 19th birthday to file a lawsuit because once they turn 18, they can file the lawsuit themselves now that they are considered an adult.
How does filing a lawsuit on behalf of a child work? First, the parents or guardians of the child would file the lawsuit as “next friend,” of the child. Unusual wording, but that is what the law asks that you do.
Then, if there is a settlement or a verdict in favor of the child, the judge must approve what is done with those funds because those funds are the child’s funds, that money does not belong to the parents.
A common practice in Tennessee is a, “minor settlement approval hearing.” What in the world is that? Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-34-105 requires that a hearing in the judge’s office take place for any settlement of a minor’s claim for an amount over $10,000.00.
The purpose behind this is so that the judge can inquire what is going to be done with the settlement funds and ensure that the parents are not going to spend all of the child’s money. One option is that the money can be deposited with the court and then the child can go to the court and obtain that money when they turn 18.
Another snag that can occur is if a child’s parents are divorced. If both parents have established custody rights, then they both have to sign off and approve a settlement for their child and approve what will be done with the settlement funds.
So can a child sue someone? No, they cannot do it themselves, but their parent or guardian can sue someone on their behalf.
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.