By: Chris Reynolds
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Florida Car Accident with a Minor: Settlements
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death in the United States for minors. Each year, approximately 167,000 children are injured and 1,100 are killed in motor vehicle crashes.
Unsurprisingly, there are many automobile accident settlements involving minors. Florida has multiple laws to protect minors in these situations. One of the stated policy reasons for this is to prevent the parents or legal guardians from spending the settlement money before the child becomes an adult at age 18.
There are two important things that may or may not be required for settlements for minors: (1) approval by a court of the settlement; and (2) appointment of a guardian ad litem for the minor who will represent the interests of the minor.
Guardian Ad Litem
Florida Statute 744.3025 requires that anytime there is a settlement where the gross amount is $50,000 or greater, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the minor’s interests. Further, in any case with a gross settlement that exceeds $15,000, the court may, at its discretion, appoint a guardian ad litem for the minor.
Under Florida Statute 744.387, if the net settlement amount (after reduction of medical bills, attorney’s fees and costs, etc.) that will go to the minor exceeds $15,000, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem as well.
Court Approval for Minor Lawsuit Settlement
Some cases are settled before any lawsuit is filed, of course. However, these rules still apply to pre-suit settlements. For those cases where a lawsuit has been filed, every settlement must be approved by the court.
If the injury claim for the minor is settled before the filing of any lawsuit and the gross settlement amount is less than $15,000, there is no general requirement to get court approval.
If the gross settlement is greater than $15,000 and the net amount to the minor is less than $15,000, but no lawsuit is filed, court approval of the settlement is required, though there is no obligation to appoint a guardian ad litem.
Some courts in Florida (but not all) require that even if the gross settlement amount is less than $50,000 and the net amount to the minor is less than $15,000, the money must be put in a depository account and that money can only be removed from the account with Court approval.
In the case of Allen v. Montalvan, multiple minor children were injured in a motor vehicle collision. Specifically, there was one adult who died, one adult who was injured, and three children who were injured. The at-fault party had only $50,000 total in insurance to cover all of these people.
The $50,000 was given to the attorneys for the adults and children, but the insurance company did not specify how much was for each person. The attorneys ended up giving $25,000 to each adult, and gave none for the children. No court approval for this settlement was obtained.
A couple of years later, the mother of the children filed a claim for injuries on behalf of the children. The insurance company asked the court to dismiss the claim, stating that the claim was already settled. Though the trial court initially agreed with the insurance company and dismissed the claim, the mother appealed on behalf of the children, and the appellate court disagreed. The appellate court reasoned that the gross settlement amount was $50,000, and since it involved children, a guardian ad litem was required. Accordingly, the initial settlement was not proper and the claim was still open for the children.
As you can see, minor settlements can become very complex depending on many factors. If you or a loved one knows a minor who has been injured due to the negligence of someone, please call experienced trial attorney Chris Reynolds for a free consultation to discuss your options.