People don’t often associate minors with probate, but personal injury settlement for persons under the age of 18 can be tricky because these settlements require the attorney to be vigilant of special procedural requirements in cases involving minors. To begin with, minors in Florida cannot pursue their own legal claims because they are not of age. Thus, a minor must pursue his or her personal injury claim through a legal guardian or a parent. In certain cases, parents and guardians must seek court approval (these cases go through the probate division of the civil court) when it comes to settlement agreements on behalf of their minor children. The Florida law is intended to provide judicial oversight so that minors have some degree of protection when it comes to such legal matters.
Under Florida statute 744.387, a parent or guardian can settle a claim on behalf of his or her minor child without court approval as long as the monetary amount of the settlement does not exceed $15,000. However, if a lawsuit has been filed, court approval is typically needed for any settlement reached between the parties. While court approval is not necessary to have a valid settlement agreement, insurance companies often require court approval before making payments for a settlement on behalf of a child.
When the gross amount of the settlement exceeds $15,000, the parent or guardian must seek court approval for the settlement. Specifically, the parent or guardian must file a Petition for Approval of Settlement. This action takes place in the probate division. The petition contains details of the facts of the case, the issues of liability, the monetary amount of damages, and the settlement amount sought, as well as attorney’s fees and costs. A judge then evaluates the settlement terms to assess whether they are in the best interests of the minor. It is important to note that the parent or guardian is obligated under the law to act in the best interests of the child.
When the net amount of the settlement is $15,000 or less, the process is relatively straightforward. In most cases, judges will simply distribute the funds directly to the parents to be used for the best interest of the child in the particular situation. If the net amount exceeds $15,000, a formal guardianship is needed to safeguard the money. If the judge approves the terms of the settlement, the funds are placed into a restricted bank account or annuity, which can later be accessed only through a court order. A court will use its discretion to allow funds to be withdrawn based on necessity and reasonableness. Generally, using funds for shelter, medical care, or education will be deemed reasonable by a court. However, each case will vary depending on its specific circumstances.
Settlements for minors can be complex, which is why it is important to seek the help of a qualified attorney. We understand that dealing with personal injury claims for your child can be an extra-stressful experience, and we are committed to proving our clients with compassionate and competent help. To learn more, contact our office today for a consultation.