As a parent, it’s distressing to find out that your child has been injured. It’s even more upsetting when you discover that the injury could have been prevented and that someone else’s carelessness caused it.
When negligence is involved, the at-fault party may be held accountable. However, if the injured person is a minor, the path to claiming personal injury compensation may be different. There are certain factors you need to navigate, such as the statute of limitations (deadline for lawsuits), the type of liability involved, and the rights of parents or guardians.
In New Jersey, get the help of an experienced attorney from the Grossman Law Firm. We are top-rated in personal injury cases, including injuries of children. In our decades of practice, we have obtained deca-millions in settlements and awards for affected New Jersey families.
Can a Parent or Guardian Bring a Child Injury Claim?
The short answer is yes, a parent or guardian may bring a personal injury claim on behalf of their minor child. The process for this is most similar to claiming compensation as an adult, but with two major differences: the statute of limitations, and the settlement.
Statute of Limitations in a Child Injury Case
The “statute of limitations” refers to the period within which you may file an injury lawsuit. In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for personal injury is generally two years from the date of the incident.
If the victim is a minor, the statute can be “stayed” (delayed) until the child turns 18. This means that the two-year clock starts running on the child’s 18th birthday.
Even though a statute can be stayed, it is wise to take action immediately after your child’s accident. You and your lawyer will likely need fresh evidence and documentation directly from the scene, as well as recent accounts from witnesses. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to preserve crucial evidence and testimonies.
Insurance companies could also use any delay to undermine your claim. They could argue that the injury must not have been as serious as you say if you were able to wait before doing anything.
Can the child pursue a claim himself/herself? Since the statute of limitations may start when the child turns 18, the child may wait until they are an adult and can legally file a claim on their own. However, for the reasons stated above, it is often not a wise decision to wait for years before pursuing a claim.
Settlement in a Child Injury Case
As long as your child is a minor and you are their legal parent or guardian, you may negotiate for a settlement on your child’s behalf. You have the authority to accept or reject offers from the at-fault party’s camp.
But unlike adult injury claims where you can directly settle out-of-court on an amount you agree with, a child injury settlement in New Jersey has to be approved by a judge if it is over $5,000. The court wants to ensure that the child’s financial rights are protected.
In addition, the court will want to know how the money will be preserved since it technically belongs to the child who is not of age yet. Some parents decide to put the money into an annuity fund. More commonly, parents opt to entrust the funds in the safekeeping of the County Surrogate, a public official elected to represent certain persons’ interests. The funds will then stay in the Surrogate’s account until the child is of legal age.
The approval of the settlement amount and the money placement will be decided during a “friendly judgment hearing.” In this hearing, you and your lawyer will present your case as to why the court should approve your settlement decisions for your child.
What Caused Your Child’s Injury?
In a compensation claim, we have to establish the cause of the injury and whose negligence allowed it to happen. We’ll then use applicable legal doctrines to show that the at-fault party is liable to pay for damages.
Here are some common causes of child injuries, and what parties may be held liable.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
While many slip-and-fall injuries are purely accidental, there are also numerous cases where they are caused by hazardous conditions on a property.
- A fall injury resulting from poorly maintained playground equipment
- A swimming injury at a pool with inadequate child protections
- A drowning incident at a pool with no lifeguard
- An injury sustained at a non-child-friendly park with no posted warnings
- A slipping injury at a store or restaurant with wet floors
- A tripping or falling injury at an unsafe amusement park
- A slipping injury on slick school grounds.
Scenarios like these fall under the legal doctrine of premises liability. It holds property owners responsible for keeping their premises reasonably safe for legal guests. If a property owner or manager fails to fix a hazard within their premises or fails to warn guests about it, they could be liable to pay for resulting injuries.
Both public and private properties are subject to this rule. However, if your child was injured at a publicly maintained property — such as a park, playground, or school — you might find a government office as the defendant. Government entities have a certain level of immunity against claims, but you may be able to pursue your compensation claim with an experienced lawyer on your side.
Dangerous or Defective Products
Under the legal concept of product liability, manufacturers and distributors must ensure that their products are reasonably safe for consumers. If the product has a dangerous quality, the company must warn consumers about it or fix the danger before the product is sold.
Kiddie items are especially scrutinized because kids don’t have the same judgment for safety that adults do.
Sadly, too many kiddie products are found to be either inherently unsafe or prone to malfunctioning, leading to injuries and illnesses for children. Some kiddie items that are frequently recalled include:
- Toys with small parts (choking hazard)
- Gadgets with defective electronics (overheating, catching fire, electrocuting, etc.)
- Snacks with choking hazard
- Drop-side cribs
- Unsafe baby slings or carriers
- Defective child seats (failing to lock, base falling apart, sudden release, etc.)
- Toxic baby toiletries
- Expired infant formula.
Sometimes, even items that are not uniquely designed for kids can lead to child injuries, too. Examples are airbags that fail to deploy and trampolines with inadequate securement.
If your child was seriously hurt while using a defective product, the manufacturer or distributor of that product may be held liable. This is a challenging case to pursue because you’d be up against a well-resourced company. Choose a lawyer who is fearless and skilled against powerful opponents.
Unfortunately, many child injuries occur at daycare facilities — places that we’re supposed to trust with the care and safety of our little ones.
Often, the injuries occur due to “negligent supervision,” such as if the caregiver fails to provide enough attention, leading to the child’s unsafe activity. Other times, daycare injuries can be a case of premises liability, such as a child falling from unsafe stairs or swings.
In many other cases, child injuries are a result of poor daycare management. These child care centers are supposed to meet federal and state standards such as caregiver-to-child ratio, safety protocols, availability of first aid, and barriers for child wandering. However, some facilities take shortcuts and barely make these standards.
It is typical for a daycare to have parents sign a waiver of liability. This is supposed to protect the facility from lawsuits if a child gets injured in their care. But in many cases, there are legal remedies available to parents despite having signed the waiver. Talk to your lawyer about your child’s daycare injury incident.
When your child participates in a sport, there is an “assumption of risk” — an acknowledgment that someone could get hurt during the normal course of play or practice. But sometimes, physical activity can go beyond the ‘normal course’. There might be some reckless or intentional hurting involved, resulting in serious injuries. In such a case, a certain party may be held responsible.
Consider these scenarios:
- A child getting hit by a baseball flying out of a defective batting cage
- A child is allowed to keep playing after sustaining a minor injury
- A child falling ill after being made to practice in extreme heat.
Some parents are unsure if their child’s sports injury is within the normal assumption of risk, or is a compensable injury. Either way, serious harm deserves a closer look. In sports and organized games, injuries often involve fractures, head injuries, torn ligaments, and lacerations — all of which entail large medical bills and pain and suffering.
To determine whether your child could be compensated, you’ll want to discuss the specific details of the case with a personal injury attorney.
Dog Bites and Other Animal Attacks
When a child gets attacked by someone else’s pet, it can create not only severe physical injuries but also lasting emotional trauma. Unfortunately, our kids are the most vulnerable. Over 50 percent of dog bite victims are children, and their most frequent dog-bite injuries are on the face, neck, and head.
Thankfully, New Jersey has a “strict liability” law when it comes to animal attacks. It means that dogs and other pets don’t get ‘one free bite.’ In some other states, pet owners can evade liability if their animal is attacked for the first time. They can say that they did not know about their pet’s tendency to bite, hence they cannot be held responsible for the first incident.
This is not the case in NJ — pet owners in the state can be held liable even if it’s the first time their pet is attacked.
According to the latest report of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an average of 3 children were killed and 520 were injured in traffic every single day in 2018 alone.
Kids can get injured as passengers or even as careful, unsuspecting pedestrians. NHTSA reports that in 2018:
- 736 children died as vehicle occupants
- 181 children died as pedestrians,
- 37 children died as pedal cyclists.
It is frightening to know that despite all our efforts to protect our children on the road, there are still many irresponsible drivers and other parties who pose terrible dangers to kids. Even supposedly safe spaces such as school zones and school buses can become the site of catastrophic injuries for our little ones.
Careless motorists and other negligent parties can be held accountable by filing a personal injury claim against them.
What if the At-Fault Party is Someone You Know?
A delicate thing about children’s injuries is that they’re often caused by someone already familiar to the family. For instance, it might be a negligent nanny or a recklessly driving relative. Dog bites are also likely to occur at the home of the victim’s friend, usually a neighbor.
Is it worth it to pursue an injury claim against someone you know? This is ultimately your decision to make. But one thing you have to remember is that a child injury can be financially and emotionally costly, and the law may very well entitle you to the compensation you need.
Expenses quickly pile up when your child is injured, and these are expenses you can’t just forgo as a parent. From emergency treatment to medical tests to long-term rehabilitation, you want your child to get the best and most comprehensive medical care that you can get.
A 2018 study from Brown University found that injuries on children between 1 and 11 years old cost $47,663 on average. For infants under 1-year-old, the average injury cost was $97,623 each.
These estimates are only about physical injuries — they don’t include non-tangibles like the psychological trauma your child may have sustained or the emotional impact on your family.
Obtaining compensation can be a much-needed relief from all these. Your settlement or award may not be able to undo the harm that’s been done, but it can help you get the best care for your child and help your family cope with the costs. Further, it’s a way to make negligent parties accountable so that they are less likely to hurt other children in the future.
When claiming compensation against someone you know, work with a lawyer who’s not only legally competent but also perceptive in handling delicate cases. Take a look at how their former clients review them and choose an attorney who has effectively handled child injury cases like yours.
Consult with a Trusted New Jersey Child Injury Lawyer
With decades of experience in personal injury law, the attorneys at the Grossman Law Firm have successfully fought for NJ parents whose children were injured.
Our approach is “big-firm competence with the small-firm relationship”: we’re strategic and fearless when dealing with negligent parties and their insurance companies, but compassionate when talking to our clients.
This is why we’re top-rated personal injury lawyers in New Jersey. You won’t have to pay us any lawyer fees unless and until we obtain your rightful compensation on your behalf. Contact us at (732) 625-9494 to schedule a free consultation.