At Haug, Farrar, & Franco we’ve handled many car accident cases for injured children over the years. We know that as a parent, one of your greatest fears is your child being injured. Even worse, if you do not retain an attorney who is experienced in handling car accident cases for children or who is willing to take the time to adequately review and handle your case, you could end up being further harmed!
Legal claims and actions involving injuries to children have their own set of rules and protocols and must be handled with care. The following blog is intended to be a general overview of the claim/settlement process and will answer some common questions regarding settling car wreck claims for children. As such, we will not cover every aspect of the process. If you have specific questions please contact the firm and an attorney will answer your questions free of charge.
One important rule is that a car wreck settlement for a child under the age of 18 has to be approved by the chancery court for the county in which the child resides. Mississippi law provides that individuals that are 18 years old can settle their claims without the need to have the settlement approved by the chancellor. If the wreck happens when the child is 17 you could simply wait until the child turns 18 to receive the settlement proceeds if you don’t want to go to court.
The process for these claims are as follows: (1) The claim has to be settled (2) All liens and costs must be accounted for (3) A petition must be filed in chancery court requesting that the settlement be approved (4) A court hearing must be set to go before the chancellor to have the settlement approved (5) Go to the hearing and get the settlement approved (6) disburse the settlement funds directly to the parents if no guardianship account is required or deposit the funds into a guardianship account.
At the hearing, one or both of the parents will be placed on the witness stand and will be sworn under oath. Your lawyer will walk you through reciting the facts of the wreck, the injuries that occurred due to the wreck, whether those injuries have resolved, all liens and costs that are coming out of the settlement, and what the net settlement to the child is. Your lawyer and/or the judge will explain that by accepting this settlement you are agreeing to release the insurance company from the claim and that these are the only funds your child will get from this insurance company. If the judge approves it then your lawyer can then get the funds to you. The judge will likely also explain that the funds are not for use on frivolous expenses and that the funds are to be used to pay for important issues like education and healthcare. Finally the judge will ask the parent/s whether they believe the settlement is in the best interest of the child.
Many parents want to know whether the funds from the car wreck case will have have to go into a restricted or guardianship account. Any settlement of $25,000 or greater will require a guardianship for the child to be opened. If your child’s car wreck settlement is over $25,000 then the judge is going to require that a restricted bank account be opened. You will need a court order to take funds out of the restricted account. And your lawyer will be required to file an accounting each year to show how much is in the account. Also, some chancellors require that a guardianship or restricted account be opened even if the settlement is under $25,000. In our experience, settlements under $10,000 virtually never require a restricted account or a guardianship to be opened.
Another issue we often encounter in settling a case for a child is parents that are no longer in the child’s life. If a parent is not in the child’s life you still have to either get a joinder and a waiver from that parent or that parent will have to be served. If the parent’s parental rights have been terminated then they have no right to be involved in the settlement. Often we have parents that are upset that they have to contact the other parent that hasn’t been in the child’s life. However, it is the law of the State of Mississippi that said parent must be given notice of the settlement and hearing and either waive their right to be at the hearing or be served to appear at the hearing. This even applies to parents that are incarcerated. Sometimes one of the parents will sign a joinder and a waiver and thus won’t have to be at the hearing.