In North Carolina, individuals that are under the age of 18 are considered minors, and there are a number of key differences between a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of a minor and one brought by an adult.  In the unfortunate event that your child has been involved in an accident, the following are some important issues that may impact his or her claim.

Medical Expenses

All medical expenses are reimbursable, but the claim for expenses that are incurred while the minor is under 18 is owned by the parents or legal guardian.  In other words, a parent can recover for medical bills for a 16-year-old, but once the child turns 18, any claim for medical bills that are incurred from that point forward must be made by the injured party.  As a result, claims for minors who have suffered personal injury often include a companion claim by the parents for their medical expenses.

Statute of Limitations

While an adult has three (3) years to file a personal injury lawsuit (known as the statute of limitations), that same deadline does not apply for a minor while he or she is under the age of 18.  It is “paused” or tolled until the minor turns 18, at which point he or she has three years to bring the lawsuit. The minor is not prevented from suing at any point prior to the deadline, but they do not have to.  However, it is important to know that the parent’s claim for medical expenses is not “paused” during this time period.  The parents must bring their claim for medical expenses within three years of the injury, regardless of the minor’s age at that time.  

Who Sues?

Minors cannot bring a lawsuit on their own.  Any lawsuit must be brought by either by a court-appointed Guardian ad litem or the minor’s natural parents.  It is possible for there to be a conflict between a minor and his or her parents, particularly if the minor was a passenger in an automobile operated by the parent.  In that case, the parent may not be able to bring the lawsuit on behalf of the minor.

Court Approval for Settlement

In North Carolina, all settlements with minors must be approved by the Court in order to be fully enforceable.  If there is no Court approval, then the minor could void the settlement agreement at a later date. Court approval typically requires a hearing before a judge to ensure that the minor’s best interests are being protected.  

Contributory Negligence

North Carolina is one of the only states left in America that still allows a defense known as contributory negligence.  If a jury believes that the injured person is even 1% at-fault for their injuries, the injured party may not recover any damages. Because children do not have the same experience and judgment as adults, North Carolina has created a special rule to determine whether a minor has been negligent.  

Children under the age of 7 can’t be considered negligent or at-fault for their own injuries.

Children between the ages of 7 and 14 normally can’t be considered negligent or at-fault for their own injuries, though there are exceptions. Children are expected to act their age, and if a jury believes that a child act extra irresponsibly for their age, then it is possible that the child can be found at-fault for their injuries.

Children between the ages of 14 and 18 can be considered negligent or at-fault for their own injuries, though there are exceptions based on intelligence, experience, and age.

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