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How Do Michigan Courts Handle Personal Injury Claims Involving Minors?

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Personal Injury Claims Involving Minors: What You Need to Know

Minors in Michigan are those who are under the age of 18. Legal matters involving minors can often be complex, in part because minors can’t enter into legal agreements. If children are especially young, they might not even be aware of what is happening with regard to legal matters or have the knowledge and cognitive ability to make decisions that are in their best interests.

Yet, minors are sometimes involved in situations such as car accidents, premises liability, bicycle accidents, or other personal injury matters. If your child or another minor in your life is injured in such an incident, knowing what to expect from the tort law system in Michigan can be helpful.

Why Are Personal Injury Claims Different When They Involve Minors?

Personal injury claims are unique when they involve minors for a number of reasons. These cases include factors that are simply not present when there are no minors involved in the case.

A Child Can’t Typically File a Lawsuit

First, a child can’t bring a legal claim on their own. They will need someone else to file claims and lawsuits in the matter on their behalf. Under Michigan law, the people who can file a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of a minor child include:

  • The child’s parents
  • The child’s non-parent legal guardian
  • A conservator appointed by the court for the specific purpose of handling financial matters or the lawsuit on behalf of the child

This alone can complicate matters in a personal injury lawsuit. If both parents are not in agreement about what is best for the child, for instance, it can lead to some tension in the matter. If the parent was also involved in the incident, there may be some level of conflict of interest. For instance, if both the child and the parent were injured in a car accident and are filing lawsuits in the matter, the court may require that the child have a guardian ad litem to help represent their interests in the matter.

The Statute of Limitations May Be Different

In Michigan, the statute of limitations on personal injury cases is typically three years. That means you have three years from the time of the injury—or the time you reasonably knew about the injury—to file a lawsuit.

However, some flexibility is allowed in cases involving minors. This is because children can’t be held legally responsible for decisions about whether or not to file a claim or lawsuit related to their injury. Adults must do that for them. What if an adult is not available or able to carry out this duty? This question is one reason the statute of limitations involving minors is tolled, or paused, until the minor comes of age and can make these decisions on their own.

The statute of limitations in cases involving minors can be a complex consideration, so it’s worth discussing it with a personal injury attorney if you’re not sure whether you have time to file a lawsuit in your case.

Settlements May Involve Other Parties

The courts generally have more oversight into settlement agreements and payouts in cases involving minors than they might in cases involving competent adults. This oversight is designed to help protect the interest of the minor.

For instance, courts may need to approve settlement agreements to ensure that everyone involved is making decisions based on the best interest of the child. The court may also provide some direction in how the settlement funds are disbursed. For instance, they may need to be held in trust for the child and managed by a court-appointed conservator.

Every case may be slightly different, and courts will consider factors such as who is filing the lawsuit on behalf of the child, how much money is involved in a settlement or award, and what the child’s needs are now and in the future.

Protecting a Child Emotionally and Mentally During a Personal Injury Case

Another consideration when filing a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of a minor is protecting the mental and emotional health of the child. Parents or other caregivers may want to limit the child’s exposure to court, which could be stressful for kids—especially younger kids or those who have been traumatized by their injuries.

While you can’t always keep a child out of court completely, judges are often willing to work with caregivers, lawyers, and minors to best protect children during these processes. This is something to talk to your personal injury attorney about so they can be proactive in asserting your child’s rights and what might be best for them.

Overall Process of the Personal Injury Case

Aside from differences related to having a minor involved in a case, these personal injury lawsuits otherwise follow traditional processes. First, your lawyer will work with you to understand all the facts of the case, including whether you might have signed a release from liability that could impact your lawsuit—as might be the case if children are injured in recreational activities.

Your attorney then gathers evidence, interviews witnesses, and creates a strategy for your case. That includes offering guidance about whether you should accept any settlement offers and ensuring you understand how having a minor child involved may impact the process.

If your child has been injured in an incident that was the fault of someone else, reach out to the Sigal Law Firm by calling 248-671-6794.

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