Accidents Involving Children: Navigating the Legal Process

Accidents involving children can be distressing, and when they occur, it’s essential to understand the legal framework in place to protect the rights and interests of minors. In the UK, a person is considered a child if they are under the age of 18. Until they reach this age, children are deemed to lack full legal capacity. So, what happens when a child is involved in an accident, and legal action is required?

In such cases, the law in England and Wales dictates that a person who possesses legal capacity can act on behalf of the child. This individual is known as a “Litigation Friend” (LF). Most responsible parents are eager to ensure their child receives the compensation they rightfully deserve. They are often willing to act as the LF and give their consent for the legal process. In situations where no one consents to be the LF, the Court can appoint one, or in exceedingly rare instances, the child might be permitted to act independently.

Three primary requirements must be met for someone to be a qualified LF:

  1. Competent Representation: The LF must fairly and competently conduct legal proceedings on behalf of the child, putting aside any personal interests for the child’s benefit.
  2. No Conflicting Interests: The LF should have no interests adverse to those of the child.
  3. Financial Undertaking: If the child is the claimant, the LF must undertake to cover any costs that the child may be ordered to pay in relation to the proceedings, subject to their right to be repaid from the child’s assets.

Once appointed as an LF, the child’s case proceeds as usual, with the LF making decisions based on legal advice. In most cases involving a child’s compensation claim, the Court is asked to approve the award. This involves a brief Court hearing in which a judge determines whether the offered compensation is reasonable. If approved, the judge also decides how the compensation should be managed, whether it should be invested for the child or paid directly to the LF. In most cases, the child and the LF are expected to be present for this hearing. The judge will want assurance that the child has fully recovered, or if not, that the medical evidence is sound. This ensures the child receives the appropriate amount and is not shortchanged.

Many parents acting as LF may mistakenly believe they can handle the legal process in their way, such as settling the claim before complete medical evidence is available. However, such actions can conflict with the requirements to be an effective LF and may lead to issues. If a case is presented to the Court with incomplete evidence, the judge is likely to refuse the award and may order the LF to cover the wasted Court time. Moreover, some parents may wrongly assume they have full control over the awarded damages, but the funds are intended for the child’s benefit, not the parent’s.

In high-value claims involving a child, trust funds are often established to cover the child’s treatment, accommodation, and education expenses. In cases of lower value, the Court usually directs the money to be invested in an index-linked fund, ensuring the child receives the equivalent value at the age of 18. Judges may also allow the compensation to be placed in a child trust fund if one is in place. Additionally, if the LF requests funds for a specific purpose beneficial to the child, the judge will generally grant permission for the disbursement.

After the damages are invested, regular investment statements are provided, and the child can access the funds when they turn 18. At this point, the money should have grown in value, offering financial security for the child’s future.

Navigating the legal process in accidents involving children requires diligence and a clear understanding of the legal responsibilities involved. If you find yourself in such a situation, seeking expert advice is essential to ensure the child’s rights and interests are protected. For guidance and support, do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to help you during this challenging time.