Minors and Personal Injury Claims in Washington

What happens if a child is seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence? In the State of Washington, there are a couple of options. First, a parent or legal representative could file a lawsuit on the minor’s behalf. Second, the child can act on their own once they’ve turned 18.

In this post, we’ll provide some basic legal information about this unique situation, including:

  • Common types of personal injuries
  • How the statute of limitations works when a minor is involved
  • How parents can recover compensation
  • Options for settlement payouts for minors
  • Pros and cons of filing now or at 18

As a quick caveat, this post is intended to provide a brief overview of this topic. If you need targeted help about your injured child, call us now. There’s no cost to speak with one of our attorneys – and we’ll only charge a fee if we win your case.

Common Types of Personal Injuries Involving Children

Children are particularly vulnerable to injuries. As adults, it’s up to us to make sure to protect them from dangers that could harm them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. And when a child gets seriously hurt, the consequences can impact their future.

Here are some common ways that children get hurt, or even killed:

Property owners can also be responsible if their premises has an “attractive nuisance.” Things like pools, dogs, or even old farm equipment can be tempting for a child. It’s important that any potential hazards like these are kept secure and ideally, out of street-view.

Child and Adult Cases: What’s the Same

Whether the injury involves an adult or a child, there are a few key similarities when it comes to pursuing a claim. It’s important that the following criteria is met in order to have a chance at receiving compensation.

  • Negligence. To have a valid personal injury case, you need to be able to prove that someone else was negligent. Examples of negligence might include a driver running a red light or a property owner failing to fix a broken sidewalk.
  • Causation. Did the other person’s careless behavior cause the injury? You’d be surprised at the ways the defense will try to blame the victim.
  • Damages. Damages refer to the real costs (like medical bills) and other harms (like pain and suffering) your child has experienced. In general, you are more likely to have a case if your child’s damages are high. For instance, if they ended up in surgery versus a few bumps and bruises.

The burden of proving these three components is on the victim (also called the plaintiff). Even if it seems straightforward, it’s best to involve an experienced personal injury attorney to navigate this process so that your family’s rights are protected.

There are two options for bringing forward claims involving a child. First, a parent or guardian could act on behalf of their child and file a claim. In most cases, a parent would have three years from the time of the accident (RCW 4.16.080).

Washington State also allows a child to file a claim on their own for up to three years past their 18th birthday (RCW 4.16.190). This “tolled” statute creates a pathway for more victims to seek compensation for their injuries.

Later in this post, we’ll briefly discuss the pros and cons of each of these options.

Personal Injury Settlement Payouts for Minors

Settlement payouts usually differ for child victims than adults, too. First, a Guardian at Litem (“GAL”) will typically be assigned to the child by the court. Their role is to ensure that the child’s legal interests are protected, and that any settlement offer is fair. So, you should plan on an additional party being involved at the table for any compensation negotiations.

Second, the settlement itself may be structured differently due to the child’s age. For example, the money may be placed into a trust fund for your child to access once they turn 18. Sometimes, particularly with large award amounts, the settlement may be paid out in a series of installments.

How Parents’ Damages are Handled

Understandably, parents may want to seek compensation for their own damages involving their child’s injury. After all, it’s the parents who are on the financial hook to pay doctor bills. Another common scenario we see is that a mom or dad ends up missing work to take care of their child.

There are a couple of pathways for a parent to seek compensation:

  • It could be rolled into the child’s claim. If a parent is filing a claim on behalf of their minor child, often their damages can be rolled into the settlement request.
  • It could be filed as a separate claim. A parent also has the option of filing a separate claim. Parents should take care if they suspect their child will wait until they turn 18 to file their own claim. In a recent State of Washington case, parents waited until their injured child turned 18 to file their own claim. Unfortunately, it was ruled that they missed their statute of limitations. In other words, they couldn’t proceed. Bottom line: the statute of limitations from the age of majority applies to the child, not the parents.

Again, an injury attorney can provide counsel on the best way to seek compensation for child and parents.

Should a Minor Seek Compensation Now or at 18?

So, which is best? Filing a claim on behalf of your child or waiting until they turn 19 so they can do it themselves? It’s impossible to answer this question for your family, since every scenario is different.

However, here are a few things to consider:

  • Evidence. It may be freshest now, which could help your case. Witness testimony, memories, access to key experts – all these things may strengthen your child’s claim.
  • Court testimony. It’s possible that your child could be questioned as part of the process – either in a deposition, or in court. If it comes to that, would your child be emotionally able to testify? (Make sure to ask a lawyer about your options here.)
  • Guardian at Litem. As a reminder, a minor will likely have a GAL assigned to them. While this isn’t necessarily a negative, it’s just another layer that will be present if your child is under 18.
  • Simpler process at 18. Filing a claim at 18 may allow for an easier, simpler process as there are less parties involved. However, it’s essential that your child is aware of their rights to file and the statute of limitations to do so.

Other factors will likely impact your family’s situation. No matter what, make sure you’re aware of your options and timelines involved. You do not want to be forever barred from seeking compensation.

We’re Here to Help

If your child has been injured in an accident, we highly recommend that you reach out to our Tacoma personal injury attorneys. We are happy to hear what happened and answer any questions you have – at no cost. Let us help your family understand the legal options available to securing compensation for your child.

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