Most people are familiar with the procedure that if they suffer injuries and financial losses as a result of an accident then they can instruct a solicitor and claim compensation against the person or organisation responsible for the accident.
But what is the position where the injured person is a child ? (and by this I mean a child who is not yet aged 18) Two issues arise here – the first issue is that the child may be too young to actually give the instruction; and secondly, even if the child is old enough to give the instruction how does he/she receive the compensation agreed ?
The starting point when dealing with a claim for a child is that the solicitor can only accept instruction from somebody acting on their behalf (and not from the child directly). The rules that have evolved on this are all intended to protect the child and ensure that when compensation is agreed for a child that it is an appropriate amount.
The procedure is such that in the first instance the solicitor will meet the child accompanied by a suitable adult who can instruct the solicitor on behalf of the child. Usually the suitable adult is the child’s parent or relative or someone else who has legal responsibility for the child. That person (who is known as the child’s “Litigation Friend”) then takes responsibility for helping the solicitor to pursue the claim. They ensure that the solicitor has all the information they need to progress the case, reply to letters and telephone calls from the solicitor on behalf of the child and ensure that the child attends any medical examinations arranged for him/ her.
Once the medical report has been obtained the solicitor then discusses this with the child’s Litigation Friend (and with the child too if he/she is old enough to understand and comment of the report) and then once agreed that the report is accurate the solicitor then takes steps to progress the case. The solicitor will then form an opinion on the likely value of the case but in the majority of cases will also instruct a barrister to effectively provide a second opinion on the value (another step in ensuring that any settlement agreed for the child is an appropriate sum).
In cases where liability has already been accepted by the opponent the solicitor will then approach the opponent to see if a settlement figure (based on the valuations reached by the solicitor and the barrister) can be agreed, making it clear that any figures that is agreed is strictly subject to the Court approving it.
If settlement CAN be agreed on that basis then the solicitor will make an application to the Court asking for a hearing date for the Court to consider the case and approve the settlement figure. There will be some paperwork to be completed and signed by the Litigation Friend but the solicitor will take care of the drafting of all of that and then wait for the hearing date to come through.
When the hearing date arrives the solicitor (or sometimes the barrister) will go along to Court with the child and the Litigation Friend and the Judge considers the medical report, the barrister’s opinion on the value of the claim, and maybe aske the child or the Litigation Friend some questions to make sure that he/she is satisfied that the figure agreed is appropriate and if so to then approve the settlement.
The hearing is often referred to as an “Infant Settlement Approval Hearing” and in most cases takes approximately 20 minutes. The hearing is informal and is in private. If settlement is approved by the Judge then an Order will be made for the money to then be invested for the child until he/she reaches the age of 18 at which point the child can then aske the Court to pay them the money(with interest).
This is the most straightforward way of achieving a settlement for a child. Sometimes however, matters are not straightforward and there can be situations where liability is admitted but the value is not…or situations where both liability and the value are in dispute… in those cases a different procedure will have be followed but that (as they say) is a story for another day…
Until next time