Minor children need protection. That’s why Colorado requires that a judge review and approve all personal injury and wrongful death settlements where the victim is under 18 years old.  This review and approval process is known as “Probate.” Damages in a personal injury accident normally include compensation for the child’s medical bills and the child’s pain and suffering. In some cases, a child may be entitled to compensation for lost earnings or the inability to earn a living, or for long term health care in the case of catastrophic injuries.

The probate court will look at several factors in reviewing the proposed settlement:

  • The amount is appropriate for the severity of the case;
  • The child is receiving the correct amount;
  • Past and future medical bills are paid;
  • The funds are managed properly to maximize funds are available when the child turns 21; and
  • Money is available as needed for ongoing health issues.

Colorado requires that a guardian be appointed for the child to act on their behalf if there are no parents or the parents have a conflict of interest.

Girl cutting out paper hearts

Compromise of a minor’s claim

The formal approval of the settlement (negotiated by the child’s personal injury lawyer) is called a “Compromise of a Minor’s Claim.” The court will conduct a hearing to determine if the settlement is in the child’s best interests.

The attorney will draft a petition seeking approval of the settlement that must generally include:

  • The child’s name and age;
  • Where the child lives;
  • The names of the parents/guardians;
  • A summary of the personal injury claim;
  • A summary of the child’s injuries and required treatments – normally supported by a medical report;
  • An explanation of the damages – medical bills, pain and suffering, and any other damages;
  • The total amount of the settlement;
  • An accounting of the court costs, legal fees, and any other expenses;
  • Any necessary custody information; and
  • An explanation of how the settlement funds will be managed.

The parents/guardian must affirm that the settlement is fair. 

The probate process

The law that governs the Compromise of a Minor is Colorado Revised Statutes § 15-12-1102: Procedure for securing court approval of compromise. There are also Colorado Probate procedural rules that apply, and may vary depending upon the county in which the probate case is filed. Normally, the process for seeking court approval of the compromises begins with the filing of a petition. All interested parties must be given notice of the petition. These parties can include:

  • The parents;
  • Any other guardian or person seeking guardianship;
  • The defendants in the case;
  • The insurance companies;
  • A government entity this is paying benefits – such as Medicare or Social Security;
  • Any party that has a subrogation interest; or
  • Other interested parties

After notice to the parties, the probate court judge will conduct an evidentiary hearing. Judges may look to see if there is a conflict of interest – such as when the parents were also involved in the same personal injury lawsuit.

Management of the settlement funds

Generally, the insurance company will pay the funds to the lawyer. After the lawyer takes their fees and authorized costs, the remaining funds are paid to the parent or guardian assigned to manage the funds. In the case of large settlements, the probate court may also appoint an independent party to handle the funds such as a bank.

The possible methods for managing funds include:

  • Conservatorships;
  • Trusts;
  • Restricted accounts; or
  • Annuities.

Most counties provide that if the settlement amount is $10,000 or less, the settlement proceeds can be placed in a restricted bank account for the child’s benefit. The funds can only be accessed with Court approval.

Additional issues in personal injury cases involving children

Experienced Colorado lawyers also help with these other issues in accident cases when the child is a victim:

Liability issues. Generally, children under 7 are incapable of negligence. Children 7 and older are generally required to use the level of care that is appropriate for their age, experience, and intelligence. For example, the older a child is, the more the child should understand the need to look both ways before crossing a street.

Damages issues. Because children are continually growing, physicians need to be concerned about how their growth and development may affect how well their injuries heal. Young children may find it difficult to express how much pain they are in and to tell the doctor all their symptoms.

The statute of limitations. In Colorado, personal injury cases must be settled or filed within two or three years of the accident depending on the type of accident (some exceptions may apply). When children are victims, the statute of limitations doesn’t begin to run until the child turns 18.

Speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer if your child is in an accident or a parent is killed in an accident.

At the Law Office of Anna L. Burr, LLC, we understand the unique concerns involved when a child is hurt in an accident or a child’s parents are killed in an accident. We work with the child’s doctors to fully understand their medical needs and your child’s pain. We have a strong record of negotiating just settlements for injury victims. We’re ready to try your child’s case in court when insurance companies are unreasonable. To speak with a skilled personal injury lawyer call the Law Office of Anna L. Burr, LLC at 720-500-2076 for a free, no-obligation consultation. We handle personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis.

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