Kids know how to have fun. They often are a bit adventurous and are willing to explore new and interesting places. As a result of this curiosity, children sometimes get injured with bumps and bruises from typical play. However, when someone else is responsible for a child’s injury, there are options available to parents and guardians to compensate their child for what they went through.
To help make this post more relatable we will use the hypothetical situation where Carl is the injured child, Paul is the parent of the child, and Danny is the defendant responsible for Carl’s injuries.
Determine who will be the child’s representative
Before we start exploring bases for recovery for an injured child, parents or guardians have to determine who to appoint as the child’s legal representative for purposes of this case. Under most circumstances, only adults have the ability to ask a court for redress or sign contracts appointing an attorney. If a lawsuit is filed, this person would be the one bringing the lawsuit as the “next of kin or next of friend.” The lawsuit would be called Carl PPA Paul v. Danny.1
Another child injuries my child
Whether it comes from bullying or a playground misunderstanding, physical altercations occur between children from time to time. If a court determines Danny either “willfully or maliciously” injures Carl, Danny’s parents would be held liable for whatever damages Danny inflicted on Carl up to $5,000.00 (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572). Homeowner’s insurance contracts generally cover this type of liability placed on a parent for the child’s actions in these cases.
Now, this is not to say Carl and Paul cannot sue Danny directly for money damages, but under most circumstances, children rarely have any assets or insurance coverage for injuries occurring on a playground. However, let’s assume Danny has a large number of assets to his name and negligently injures Carl. As Danny’s actions are deemed to be negligent, the parents escape liability.
Under this circumstance, Danny can still be held liable for Carl’s injuries even if he is under the age of 16, the age Connecticut law holds a person to adult standards of conduct. The analysis is a bit nuanced when a court looks into what is reasonably expected of children of similar age, intelligence, and experience and compares it to the actions of Danny to determine if Danny could, in fact, be held liable to Carl under the law. See Rutkowski v. Conn. Light & Power Co., 100 Conn. 49, 53 (1923). It goes without saying, the older Danny is, the stricter the standard applied to Danny. See Rumm v.The Shack Resturant, 51 Conn. L. Rptr. 608 (2011).
An adult injures my child
If Danny was an adult and he injures Carl, and then Carl gets a judgment or settlement under $10,000, there is no real difference than if Carl was an adult proceeding against Danny. The only thing to take note of would be that all legal actions took place through the “next friend” referred to in the above section.
If Carl was injured by the negligence of Paul, however, there is no cause of action. Connecticut still subscribes to the parental immunity doctrine which says a minor generally cannot sue his parent for injuries caused by that parent in order to preserve the unity of the family unit and avoid injecting “the machinery of the state” in the form of lawsuits into the daily decisions parents make. Squeglia v. Squeglia, 234 Conn. 259, 265 (1995).
While on the one hand, parent-child immunity may close a cause of action otherwise available to a child, it can be advantageous in other circumstances. Let’s say Paul is supervising Carl and Danny accidently injures Carl. Paul brings a lawsuit on Carl’s behalf against Danny, and Danny tries to lay part of the blame on Paul for failure to properly supervise Carl. Since parent-child immunity prevents lawsuits between family members, Danny would not be able to make such an allegation in the resulting lawsuit’s pleadings. See Crotta v. Home Depot, Inc., 249 Conn. 634 (1999). One should note, this is not a firmly settled concept in motor vehicle accidents.
If Carl were to receive an award of $10,000 or above, things get a bit more complicated. If the award was through a settlement, Paul would have to open an estate on behalf of Carl and get the local probate judge to approve the settlement before signing any release. After the funds are received by Paul’s attorney, the probate court would then supervise the placing of those funds into, usually, a restricted account to be used by Carl when he reaches age 18 (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-631). Please note, this would apply in any case where Carl receives ten thousand dollars or more, regardless of the identity of the defendant.
My child is hurt while on private property
Carl is walking on Danny’s property along a sidewalk, and Carl gets injured. It was a pure accident, but Paul incurs a significant amount of medical bills to heal Carl. If Danny has homeowner’s insurance, Paul may be able to get some of those medical bills paid by that homeowner’s insurance. Most homeowner’s policies have coverage which will cover purely the medical bills resulting from the injuries suffered by individuals while on the property. This coverage is called medical payments coverage and has developed from the general rule where an offer to pay for the medical bills of an injured person generally does not constitute an admission of guilt by the offering party. See Fed. R. Evid. 409 and Danahy v. Cueno, 130 Conn. 213 (1943).
If, however, there was some defect on the sidewalk, such as snow and ice not removed, which Adam knew or should have known existed and Carl slipped and fell on the snow, Carl would have a cause of action against Danny. As mentioned before, the Crotta case prevents Danny from alleging Paul was somehow responsible for Carl’s damages since parent-child immunity prevents such allegations. There does exist, however, a direct cause of action Paul can bring to compensate Paul for the medical costs he incurred trying to heal Carl, which would be advisable to bring especially if Danny does not have medical payments coverage or the coverage is insufficient to cover all of Carl’s medical bills.
Before brining such an allegation, Paul must understand he may be exposing himself to possibly shouldering some of the blame. Danny could allege, in this case, that Paul failed to properly supervise Carl and should be forced to be responsible for some of those medical bills. Since this cause of action for medical bills is a direct one between Paul and Danny, there is no implication of parent-child immunity, so it would be allowed in this instance. Escourse v. 100 Taylor Avenue, LLC, 54 Conn. L. Rptr. (Conn. Super. Ct. Sept. 10, 2012). Perhaps it would be wiser to simply proceed in this case under the single count of Carl against Danny.
A number of additional wrinkles abound outside of the ones outlined above, including suing local and state governmental entities, which will be covered in my next post, but for now, it is always best to determine who will be child’s legal representative and to think long and hard about what causes of action one wants to pursue before making every allegation available against a defendant.
1 For you Latin buffs, PPA stands for “per proxima amici.”