Pursuing an injury claim, whether it be from an accident in a supermarket, bar or restaurant, in a hotel or casino, a swimming pool, a construction site, or in an apartment or home, can be a difficult endeavor at the best of times. Pursuing a personal injury claim for your child can be an even more strenuous experience. Obviously since your child is not of legal age, you have to do all of the legal legwork yourself: contacting an experienced injury lawyer, weighing your options, and making life-changing decisions which are going to impact yourself and your loved ones.
In this situation, it is important to understand that there are legal protections in place to guarantee that the child’s best interests are being protected. As sad as it is to say, not every parent has self-less intentions when it comes to their child’s legal interests, or even if they did they might accidentally infringe on their child’s legal rights simply by not understanding the letter of the law. For example, some families may believe that as long as the money earned in a settlement is used to benefit the family, they can spend it at their discretion. This is simply not true, unless the agreed-upon settlement specifically states otherwise.
Friendly Judgement Hearing
Oftentimes, securing a fair and just award for your child’s injury case can be the most difficult step of the process. That being said, it is not the final step. For any settlement over $5,000, as most New Jersey Personal Injury cases will be, a “friendly judgement hearing” will take place. This is so that a Superior Court judge can ensure the child’s financial rights are being protected. While some parents may dislike the idea of a court needing to guarantee they have their child’s best interests at heart, it is important to remember that this hearing is simply to ensure that your child receives the funds they are due, it is not an adversarial process.
At this hearing, your attorney should be prepared to present to the judge a comprehensive breakdown of expenses incurred during the legal proceedings, medical expenses for your child’s injury, and any other miscellaneous and court fees associated with the trial. The judge will review these expenses, and then subtract them from the awarded settlement. Again, this process is in place to protect the rights of the child, not to make your life more difficult.
Preserving Your Child’s Future
Now that a settlement has been reached, and a Superior Court judge has approved the payment of legal fees and medical costs, a decision must be reached regarding how to preserve the settlement awarded to your child. The two most commonly chosen options in New Jersey are either entrusting the settlement to a County Surrogate, or putting it into an annuity fund. It is important to note that a standard savings account is not a legal option because of its low rate of return as well as its ease of access before the child turns 18.
The County Surrogate is an official elected once every 5 years. Their principal responsibility is to represent the interests of those who cannot represent themselves. This includes the guardianship of minors, estates and wills of the deceased, and those people declared legally incapacitated. In this case, the County Surrogate will act as the custodian of your child’s injury settlement until your child reaches the age of 18, at which point they will be given the sum of their settlement in addition to whatever interest it may have earned.
An annuity is a special type of long-term fund, which will remain inaccessible to the owner until a predetermined date has been reached. One of the main advantages to this option is its high rate of return as well as untaxed payments. Generally the fund will be setup in such a way as to pay out over a period of time, for example during the college years of the child. It is a flexible and profitable option in many child injury cases, but is less beneficial if the child has high financial demands before reaching the age of maturity (in the case of children with serious injuries requiring continuous medical treatment).
Suffice it to say, for any case involving the injury of a child, experienced counsel should be retained. If you or a loved one has been injured or is in need of settlement advice, contact the law offices of Chamlin, Rosen, Uliano & Witherington today to schedule a consultation.