Can a Minor File a Lawsuit?
In California, anyone who has been injured can file a lawsuit. It does not matter how old the injury victim is. This means, that anyone younger than 18 years old can pursue a lawsuit. However, California has specific laws governing claims made by minors. These laws are in place to protect minors. Below we explain some of the common questions we receive regarding minors pursuing lawsuits.
Is there a Minimum Age for A Minor to File a Lawsuit?
There is no minimum age for a minor to file a lawsuit. As long as a minor suffered an injury, then they can file a lawsuit. Additionally, many deadlines to file a lawsuit are extended for minors.
For traditional personal injury claims that do not involve government entities or physicians, a minor can file a lawsuit up until they turn 20 years old. For example, a minor who is injured ina car accident at age 5 can file a lawsuit later at age 19. This is different from traditional statute of limitations for adults. Two years from the date of injury is the typical statute of limitation for adults.
How Can A Minor File A Lawsuit?
A minor cannot file a lawsuit by themselves. A minor can only file a lawsuit through an appointed guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem is an adult who agrees to oversee the lawsuit on the minor’s behalf. Often times, a guardian ad litem is a minor’s parents or family member. However, any adult can serve as the guardian ad litem. Ultimately, the judge must approve who is appointed as the minor’s guardian ad litem. This is accomplished through a petition to the court to appoint a guardian.
The guardian ad litem is not a party to the lawsuit. They are simply an adult who oversees the child’s interests.
How Can a Minor Retain A Lawyer?
A minor can retain a lawyer by having their guardian ad litem sign a retainer agreement. A minor cannot sign an agreement by themselves. This is because minors are not legally allowed to contract. Therefore if they sign an agreement by themselves, then the contract is not necessarily enforceable.
Typically, a minors guardian signs the retainer agreement with the attorney. Then, the attorney files a petition to appoint guardian ad litem, so that the adults who signed a retainer agreement has authority to act on behalf of the child.
What Damages Are Minors Entitled To?
In personal injury claims, minors are entitled to the same damages as an adult. In personal injury claims, this typically includes past and future wage loss, past and future medical damages, and emotional distress. Depending on the severity of an injury, a minor may not have lost past wages, but may lose future wages. For example, if a minor suffers a traumatic brain injury that affects their cognitive abilities, then their future wages may be affected.
How can a Minor Settle a Lawsuit?
A minor can only settle a lawsuit to court supervision. Once a minors guardian ad litem reaches a tentative settlement agreement, an attorney then submits the agreement to the court. Specifically, the minor’s attorney submit a petition for minors compromise. This petition explained to the court details of the lawsuit and the settlement amount. The court then determines whether to approve a settlement agreement.
How Does A Minor Receive the Money from The Lawsuit
if a minor receives money from a lawsuit, then the court will issue an order as to distribution of the funds. How the fund is distributed depends on the minor’s age and the settlement amount. For example, the court can issue that all of the settlement proceeds be deposited into a blocked account. This means that the minor cannot access the funds until they turn 18 years old. Alternatively, the court can issue that the settlement funds be used to purchase an annuity that pays the child periodically over the course of many years.
Ultimately, the minor is the only person entitled to settlement funds. A guardian ad litem cannot receive the minor’s compensation.