Nothing is more upsetting to a parent than seeing their child injured due to someone else’s negligence. When it does happen, many parents find themselves faced with choices they have never had to make. How do I select a personal injury lawyer? How do I decide what is a reasonable settlement? What happens to the settlement money when my child’s case is settled? All of these are important questions that parents need to think about when an accident happens to their child. So, we spoke with Paul. H. Cannon, a Houston personal injury lawyer with over 25 years of experience to get the answers to these questions.
With all the personal injury lawyers out there to chose from, how can a parent pick the right one for their child?
You know, we live in an information society where a web browser can bring you an endless list of personal injury attorneys with a few clicks. But just because a law firm has a good marketing company that puts them at the top of Google does not mean they will do the best job representing your child. I still believe that for the more common personal injury cases like car accidents, you should talk to people you trust and get a recommendation from someone who has hired that attorney before or knows someone who has hired them. Many people do not realize it, but Pastors are often a great source to speak to. They know a lot of people who have come to them in their time of need, and they often have seen the outcome.
For less common cases such as an animal attack, an injury on a play structure, or injury at a recreational park, you need to do some research. There are different elements of proof for different types of cases. Most personal injury attorneys handle car wrecks and slip and falls at some point in their career because they are very common. But for the less common cases, you want someone who has experience and good results with this specific type of case. If you can find a story about a similar case online and reach out to the lawyer that handled it successfully, this is one way to go about it. I would suggest people start by educating themselves on what the law requires. Then talk to a lawyer and see if he can answer some questions on the subject that make you feel comfortable that he is knowledgeable. Additionally, ask the lawyer for specific similar case results examples. If he/she cannot give you any, talk to another attorney.
Once you have a lawyer and a settlement offer has been made, how do you decide what is a reasonable settlement offer?
If you made the right decision in finding a personal injury lawyer, you should be able to lean heavily on your attorney for making the decision on whether to accept or reject a settlement offer. Remember, you chose an attorney with experience in this field because you do not have any. His/her job is to set the emotional factors aside and make the smart, unbiased decision that is best for your child.
In addition to the able, most minor settlements of any significant size will require the appointment of a guardian ad litem by the Court to evaluate and approve the settlement. Talk to your lawyer early on to ensure this is required in your case. A Court-appointed guardian ad litem is an attorney whose sole job is to put independent eyes on the settlement and advise the Court whether he/she agrees that it is fair and that the settlement is in the child’s best interest. Talk with the guardian ad litem in your case and make sure they understand all the facts.
Many children are not old enough to be responsible with a large amount of money. How do I protect my child’s settlement from waste?
Anytime there is a substantial settlement, a guardian ad litem should be appointed not only to evaluate the reasonableness of the settlement but also to ensure the money is being protected from waste. The money first and foremost belongs to the child, not the parents or anyone else. So Courts look to the guardian ad litem to make sure the money is places somewhere where it will be protected until the child is old enough (at least 18) to make better decisions. The two most common ways money is protected are by placing it in the Court Registry or by purchasing a Settlement Annuity.
Placing the money in the Court Registry is basically just putting the money in a Court-controlled bank account. It will earn interest at the going rate until the money is withdrawn. A Settlement Annuity sets up an account with a financial company where the money will be paid out in one or more lump sums at some point after the child turns 18. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. You typically get a better return from a Settlement Annuity, and they can be structured payouts set up as a college fund. However, Settlement Annuities come with a set up fee. So, if the settlement is small or the minor is close to turning 18 so that there is not much time for an annuity to grow, the Court Registry may be a better option. Also, if your child may require access to the funds for medical care, it will only be accessible if it is in the Court Registry vs a Settlement Annuity. You should discuss this with the guardian ad litem to determine the best option for your case.
Paul H. Cannon is a Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Lawyer and a Shareholder at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., Injury & Accident Lawyers, in Houston, Texas. He has been licensed to practice in Texas since 1995. Bio: https://www.simmonsandfletcher.com/attorneys/paul-h-cannon/