What You Need To Know About Florida Personal Injury Settlements Involving Minors
The most common resolution for a personal injury claim is a negotiated settlement, either directly with the defendant or–as is more often the case–with their insurance company. From a legal standpoint, a personal injury settlement is just like any other contract that binds both sides to its terms.
But what if the victim of an accident is a minor, i.e., a person under the age of 18? In these cases a guardian acting on the minor’s behalf will bring a claim or negotiate a settlement. There are, however, special rules that apply to such settlements in order to safeguard the minor’s interests.
Court May Need to Appoint Guardian, Separate Legal Counsel for Minor
Basically, any “global settlement” of a personal injury case over $50,000 requires court approval under Florida law, regardless of how much of that settlement is actually apportioned to the minor. A legal guardian, usually the child’s parent, must agree to the settlement on the child’s behalf. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s legal interests during the approval process, although this can be waived if the court determines there is no conflict of interest with the child’s guardian.
On the other end of the spectrum, if a personal injury claim is settled with an insurance company for less than $15,000, court approval is not required unless a civil action is filed. In other words, if the parents agree to settle with the negligent party’s insurance company and do not file a formal lawsuit, then no judicial approval is needed to accept that settlement on the child’s behalf.
For cases in the middle of this range–i.e., settlements greater than $15,000 but less than $50,000–court approval is still required. But if the net amount of the proposed settlement going to the minor is $15,000 or less, no legal guardianship is required. If the net amount to the minor is more than $15,000, a legal guardianship for the settlement is required. In either case, a guardian ad litem is not required although one may be appointed at the discretion of the court.
The Legal Standard for Approving Settlements
When a court reviews a personal injury settlement involving a minor, the legal test is whether or not the proposed agreement is “in the best interest of” that minor. Put another way, the judge’s role is to look at the terms of the settlement and decide if they are “fair, adequate, and reasonable” under the circumstances and not the product of “collusion” between the parties. Keep in mind, when the prospect for litigation is uncertain–say, because the insured party disputes liability for the accident–judges are likely to approve a settlement that brings some degree of finality.
If you have additional questions about how a personal injury claim might affect your own family, it is best to seek out competent legal advice from an experienced Boca Raton car accident lawyer. Contact Leifer & Ramirez today to schedule a free consultation.