Where a child is injured as a result of an accident, product or medical treatment it may be possible to make a claim on the child’s behalf*. Where the person under the age of eighteen (a ‘minor’) suffers an injury owing to the negligence of another person, or organisation, their right to make a claim is subject to certain requirements that are there to safeguard the minor’s interests.
As the injured party is under the age of eighteen they are required to bring their claim through an adult. This is generally one of their parents or a guardian. The adult who represents the minor is known as the ‘next friend’. The next friend is required to act in the best interest of the minor when making decisions in respect of the claim.
Unlike the two year timeframe, or statute of limitations, for adults’ negligence claims, the cut-off timeframe for a minor claim is two years after the date of their eighteenth birthday.
An important safeguard for a minor in a negligence claim is that a judge’s approval is required before a settlement or award offer can be accepted by the next friend. Where a solicitor has managed to negotiate an offer in the case it will then be necessary for a court application to be made. The application will include a barrister’s opinion as to the appropriateness of the offer. A judge has the discretion to either accept an offer or turn it down depending on whether they believe the injuries merit a higher level of award or if they require further medical evidence before making a decision on the value of the injuries.
These safeguards are to ensure that the best interests of the minor are looked after. Once the offer is agreed by the judge, the monies then go into court until the minor turns eighteen. Once eighteen a separate application is required to take the settlement monies out of court.
Common types of accidents involving children
Common types of accidents that result in children being injured include:-
- Road traffic accidents where the minor was a passenger;
- Medical negligence claims against hospitals and/or doctors, including injuries at birth;
- Product liability claims for injuries from toys (including cuts and choking hazards);
- Child abuse cases;
- Accidents in playgrounds,
- Accidents in crèches or day-cares;
- Accidents in swimming pools;
- Accidents at school;
- Food poisoning incidents; and
- Injuries from anti-social behaviour.
Common child injury claims
Negligent actions or omissions by medical staff during the term of the pregnancy, at birth or during post-birth aftercare, may be actionable. Injuries at birth are classed as birth injuries or birth defects:-
- Birth injuries are injuries that are caused during or immediately after the delivery of the child. Typical examples of birth injuries include broken bones, nerve damage and brain damage.
- Birth defect injuries occur as a baby develops in the mother’s womb. These defects can occur from mismanagement of the pregnancy by medical staff. Some birth defects have been found to occur from medications prescribed to the mother that contained toxins resulting in defects to the developing child.
Where a child has suffered from abuse of a physical or sexual nature it is important to report these incidents.
- In the first instance such incidents should be reported to the Garda Síochána. For assistance and support you may wish to contact one of the many support groups that are available, which include:-
- Cari provide support for children who are victims of childhood sexual abuse;
- Safe Ireland provide support for women and children affected by domestic abuse;
- Barnardos provide support for children who are victims of childhood sexual abuse, amongst other services; and
- TUSLA is the State Agency responsible for protecting the wellbeing of children.
A child that is a victim of abuse of a physical or sexual nature can bring a personal injuries claim. We appreciate that incidents of this nature may be very difficult to discuss. There are important proofs that will need to be gathered such as the dates of the incidents, the identity of the abusers and medical evidence of the physical and/or psychological injuries caused.
Injuries suffered at school, creche or day-care
To bring a claim it will be necessary to show that the injury was caused by negligence of the owner or a staff member. In a school and crèche setting teachers and supervisors have a duty of care to protect the safety of children. This includes avoiding injury being caused by the anti-social behaviour of other children.
Where an accident occurs in areas of public amenities for children (such as playgrounds or skate parks) and injury is caused to a child, then you should consult with a child injury solicitor to discuss your options.
There is a duty of care owed to the users of such amenities by the owners to provide an appropriate level of safety for children using the facilities. Where injuries occur due to the negligent actions/inactions of the owner, or an employee of the owner, then there may be cause for action. Playground accidents can often occur due to poor maintenance, poor layout or a lack of supervision. In some cases children can suffer injury due to faulty or incorrectly installed equipment.
Making a claim
If you wish to make a claim in respect of an injury to a child it is advisable that the next friend contact a solicitor at an early stage following the accident.
There is an extended statute of limitations time period for minor claims, being two years after the minor turns eighteen years of age. However, as is the case for an injuries claim involving an adult that is based on the negligence of others, it is very important to gather evidence from an early stage after an accident or incident that caused the injury. A person or organisation seeking to defend any such claim may take issue with any significant delay in the claim being taken where it unfairly prejudices their ability to defend the case.