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Children & Liability

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How does the law protect children who are hurt in an accident? Who is liable when a minor causes an injury? 

Personal injury cases typically arise from accidents and other incidents involving adults. But what if a child is injured, or ends up causing an injury? Personal injury law assumes that children do not have the same well-formed judgment as adults do, and has fashioned special rules for compensation and liability in accidents involving children.

Injuries to Children

Accidents happen, as any parent will tell you. But certain injuries to children can result in a personal injury claim when someone else's carelessness plays a part

Although the procedure for getting compensation for a minor may varies,a child has a right to compensation for the same spectrum of damages you'd find in a personal injury claim filed by an adult. That includes payment for pain and suffering, permanent injury, emotional distress, and disability. Also, a parent usually has a separate right to be compensated for medical bills paid on behalf of a child.  Obviously, a child cannot negotiate settlement of a personal injury claim, so a parent is permitted to negotiate on behalf of the child (or the parent can hire an attorney to do so).

Legal liability for accidents caused by minors is based on the same notion of care and carelessness as accidents caused by adults. But the same standards of care that are expected of an adult cannot be applied to minors. Carefulness implies an understanding of risks, and minors—particularly young children—do not understand risks the way adults do.

The law applies different standards to different age groups when deciding whether a minor is liable for causing injuries to another person. Very young children (seven years old or under) are generally not held liable for accidental injuries they cause; they are too young to understand that they have been careless. This does not mean, however, that parents or legal guardians might not be liable for their negligence in failing to control a child. 

Once a child is old enough to know right from wrong, the child can be held responsible for intentional injuries he or she causes. So, if one child intentionally injures another child, for example, or intentionally throws a rock at a car and causes an accident, the child who commits the intentional act, and the child's parents, may be held liable.

Older children are generally held liable for negligent conduct if they did not behave carefully as measured by what other children of the same age would understand is reasonably careful. And once children become middle teenagers, they are held to pretty much the same standard as adults. When driving a car, a minor is held to exactly the same standards as adults.

Children don't normally have much money of their own, but if a minor can be held legally responsible, there are several ways for a person injured by the minor to collect compensation. First, the actions of minors are very often covered by insurance. If a minor is driving a car, either the minor's own automobile insurance or the insurance of the car owner (parent or employer) should cover the accident. 

If the accident does not involve a vehicle, a homeowner's insurance or renter's insurance policy may cover the conduct of a minor who lives in the home, so the injured person may be able to deal directly with the parent's insurance company. 

If you are seriously injured in an accident caused by a minor and there is no insurance covering the minor's conduct, it may be worth pursuing a personal injury lawsuit against the minor. If you obtain a legal judgment from a court stating how much the minor owes, the minor will have to pay it upon coming of age—18 years old in most states—and starting to earn money.

Parents' Liability for Minors' Car Accidents

Usually, a minor who is driving a car or motorcycle will be covered by either his or her own insurance or a parent's insurance policy. If the minor is not named on a parent's insurance policy, or if the car the minor is driving is owned by a parent, the parent is liable, which means that you can collect from the parent's insurance company.

If the minor is the registered owner of the car or motorcycle but has no insurance, most states make the parent responsible for damages—usually limited to between $5,000 and $25,000—caused in an accident when the minor is at fault. So, if you are involved in a car accident with a minor who has little or no insurance coverage, you may be able to file a claim against a parent and collect from one or both policies up to the limit of your damages.

If you or a loved one are involved in any type of accident involving a child or minor, contact our offices for a free review of your matter.   For over 40 years, we have worked with clients across SE Wisconsin to ensure they receive the compensation and protection they deserve.