When you suffer an injury that the law holds someone else responsible for, you can file a personal injury lawsuit—if you are at least 18 years old, that is. If the victim is under 18 years old, Pennsylvania law requires a legal guardian to file a lawsuit on behalf of the child. The guardian must represent the minor and supervise the process.
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Common Childhood Injuries
Below is a description of some of the most common injuries suffered by children.
Birth injuries are not typical, but they are not uncommon either. For example, a doctor might misuse forceps during delivery, resulting in Erb’s palsy. When a birth injury happens, it is almost certainly the child’s very first injury (although prenatal injuries are not uncommon). Birth injury lawsuits are medical malpractice lawsuits.
Occasional accidents are to be expected in a rough-and-tumble playground environment. However, these accidents can generate a personal injury claim in cases of lack of supervision or poor maintenance of playground equipment. Imagine a swingset with a seat suspended by weak chains, for example.
Swimming Pool Accidents
Some people who own swimming pools on private property do not secure them against passing children. Tragically, this could lead to a wrongful death. Under Pennsylvania’s attractive nuisance doctrine, it is sometimes possible to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit even if the child was trespassing at the time of the accident.
Since so many children participate in sports, sports injuries are extremely common among minors. Football and wrestling are two of the major culprits.
In most cases, the defendant can assert an “assumption of risk” defense. Such a defense is especially likely to be successful if a parent signed a waiver of liability prior to the child’s participation in the sport. However, even a waiver won’t protect the defendant from accountability in cases of extreme negligence.
Slip and Fall Injuries
You’ve probably seen the signs: “No Running or Horseplay.” Such a sign might not protect the property owner from liability for a slip and fall accident if they did not adequately supervise the children on their property. After all, a small child will not be able to read the sign.
Bicycle accidents are extremely common among children. They do not always result in personal injury claims. When they do, however, lack of supervision is often the justification for the claim.
Young children are the most common victims of dog bites. The main reason is that they so often lack the judgment to realize when they are provoking a dog. Childhood dog bites can result in permanent physical scarring and a lifelong fear of dogs.
Some states apply a “one-bite rule” that relieves the owner of liability if the dog never acted aggressively before. Pennsylvania has no one-bite rule—the owner can be liable even if the dog has never displayed vicious tendencies.
Children are just as likely to experience a car accident as adults (unless they are kept at home most of the time). Unfortunately, children are even more vulnerable to car accident injuries than adults are, because their bodies are more fragile.
A product liability claim arises when a defective product injuries someone. An unsafe toy might give rise to a product liability claim, for example. Likewise, a defective car seat might lead to a product liability claim.
Suing on Behalf of a Minor in Pennsylvania
As stated above, a minor under the age of 18 cannot file a lawsuit in Pennsylvania. There is an exception if the child is emancipated, in which case they will enjoy the rights of an adult. For example, a child becomes emancipated before they reach 18 if they get married or join the military.
To sue on behalf of a minor, the court must appoint you as the child’s guardian for the purpose of the lawsuit. Normally, the judge will choose one of the parents as the child’s guardian. However, in some cases, the court will appoint a third-party guardian to file the lawsuit on behalf of the child.
How Long Does a Child Have to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?
You typically have only two years from the date of an injury to file a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania. If you miss the deadline, any court will dismiss your case, and the defendant and insurance company will refuse to negotiate with you.
There are exceptions to the statute of limitations deadline. One of them is the exception for minors. Under this exception, the two-year countdown doesn’t begin until the child’s 18th birthday, meaning they have until their 20th birthday to file a lawsuit.
It is best not to wait until the child is 18 to file a lawsuit unless their 18th birthday was approaching at the time of the accident. Witness memories fade, witnesses move out of town, and physical evidence deteriorates. The longer you wait to file your claim, the weaker it will become.
Damages Available in a Child Injury Claim
Generally, children are entitled to all of the damages (financial compensation) that adults can recover in a personal injury case. That includes economic damages for medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses. They can also pursue non-economic damages for pain and suffering and reduced quality of life.
Comparative Fault in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s modified comparative fault law allows a defendant to reduce or even eliminate their liability if the victim’s fault contributed to their own injuries.
For example, if the victim was 20% at fault, they will lose 20% of their compensation. If they were 50% at fault, they will lose 50% of their compensation. They will lose their right to compensation entirely if they are 51% to 100% at fault.
Nevertheless, a court is likely to exercise leniency in assessing fault against a child who was too young to act with an adult level of responsibility. A court still might allow a defendant to try to prove that the child victim was at least partially liable for their own injuries despite their young age. However, if the child is young enough (a toddler, for example), a court will not favor this argument.
Seek the Assistance of a Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyer If Your Child Was Injured
Filing a claim on behalf of someone else is a complication that should prompt you to hire a personal injury lawyer. This is especially true if the amount of your claim is significant, such as in the case of wrongful death or a severe injury. Don’t worry—most personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations, and they only charge you legal fees if they win. Contact Marzzacco Niven & Associates today at (717) 231-1640 to get started.