When an adult is injured in Alabama, he or she can negotiate with the at-fault party in order to resolve the dispute. This negotiation is often handled by an attorney and results in a settlement agreement. The adult can sign that agreement, which then makes the settlement legally binding. When it comes to children who suffer injuries, the law takes a different approach. If your child was injured and you are wondering how the settlement will be handled, the attorneys of Hornsby, Watson & Hornsby want you to understand your child’s rights and the general steps needed to approve and finalize their settlement.
Court Approval is Usually Required
It comes as a surprise to many that a court would need to be involved even in a minor injury claim. But the fact is, minors are not legally permitted to enter into contracts in Alabama. For this reason, someone else must do it on their behalf. This creates a unique legal relationship between the person entering into the settlement and the child.
What is a Pro Ami Lawsuit?
Pursuant to Alabama Code Sect. 6-5-390, when a child is injured, the child’s parents have an equal right to bring a claim on their behalf. In general, a child can disclaim the settlement upon reaching adulthood. This creates a bit of a challenge for defendants and insurance companies. They want to settle the case and pay, but they do not want to open the door to unlimited future liability if the child grows up and changes his or her mind or discovers the injuries were worse than expected.
Unlike a lawsuit over the actual injuries, these are considered friendly or amicable suits, where a parent or other guardian will petition the court to approve the pro ami settlement. Pro Ami simply means “for friend.” This is required in many situations involving young victims of motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, or other injuries that might involve a child.
When is a Minor Settlement Required to Go Before a Court?
Not all settlements require court approval. In Alabama, settlements and verdicts that exceed $5,000 must be approved through a court process. Smaller minor claims can be handled through claims limitations forms and other attorney-drafted agreements. If the settlement offer is greater than $5,000, then you will almost certainly need to get court approval.
While you may be a wonderful parent, there are those who would accept a quick and unreasonable settlement, only to steal the money from the child and use it for personal purposes. Alabama courts are aware of this sad reality, so they have mechanisms in place to prevent it.
What Happens in Court?
If the case must be approved through a pro ami case, here is what will happen. First, an attorney will help you determine which parent will act on behalf of the child for the purpose of bringing the case. Next, the court will set a hearing to determine whether the settlement is fair in light of the injuries and other factors. This type of hearing can feel a bit paternalistic, meaning the court is taking a protective stance to make sure the child’s best interests are being put first. To ensure this, a guardian ad litem (GAL) is often appointed. Much like a GAL in a family court case, this type of GAL is appointed to be the eyes and ears of the court to advise the judge as to any issues or concerns that may interfere with the minor getting justice. Indeed, just about everything is subject to the judge’s approval.
At the hearing, a judge can:
- Determine the settlement is fair or unfair
- Adjudicate attorney fees or expenses
- Reduce or adjudicate liens
- Address healthcare provider bills or insurance liens
Who Handles the Pro Ami Case for a Minor?
In a pro ami proceeding, there are several key players:
- The injured child
- The parent or other relative acting on child’s behalf
- The attorney
- The GAL
- The judge
Minor cases can present several challenges that some attorneys prefer not to handle. This is why it is important to hire an Alabama personal injury firm that can help you and your child recover maximum compensation, while navigating the landmines and obstacles of getting the settlement or verdict approved in court. If you have questions about this process or need a lawyer to represent your child due to a serious injury, call Hornsby, Watson & Hornsby today. We always offer free consultations, so call today to discuss your case risk free.