Despite the heightened level of concern parents have regarding their children’s safety, motor vehicle collisions constitute the leading cause of death of children under the age of fourteen in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Based on a CDC study, approximately 638 children age 12 and under died and another 127,250 suffered injury in passenger vehicle accidents during a recent one-year period. Given these alarming statistics, parents have a legitimate reason to worry about the safety of their children who are passengers. Florida law provides special protections to safeguard the interests of child passengers pursuing personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Our Miami auto accident attorneys discuss a special statutory protection for minors injured in collisions in this post.
In this blog post, our lawyers review a recent court decision that applied a special statutory protection for children in personal injury litigation. In this heartbreaking case, a grandmother died while her two children (one an adult) and two minor grandkids suffered injury when they were struck by an intoxicated driver. All of the passengers suffered injuries of varying degrees of severity. The coverage limits of the insurer for the drunk driver were $25,000 per bodily injury victim and $50,000 per incident for all victims. After the tragic crash, the children’s mother filed a lawsuit on behalf of her kids, herself, and the estate of her mom. While the insurance company agreed to tender the full amount, confusion later arose about whether the money offered was to be considered a tender of policy limits or a full settlement of all claims. Ultimately, the insurance carrier tendered $25,000 to the estate of the grandmother, $25,000 to the mother, and nothing for either child.
In the wake of this result, the mother retained another attorney and filed a new lawsuit based on the injuries incurred by her children. The insurance carrier sought to have the lawsuit dismissed based on the prior settlement constituting a full and final resolution of all damages suffered by all of the parties. While the trial court granted the dismissal based on the prior settlement, the appellate court reversed the decision of the trial court.
The court considered the applicability of Florida Statute Section 744.3025(1)(b) which protects the interests of minor victims in motor vehicle accident litigation. Under this provision, the court is required to appoint a guardian ad litem to safeguard the interests of minors if a settlement amounts to $50,000 or more. The judge has the discretion to appoint a guardian to protect minor parties to the lawsuit if the gross amount of the settlement is over $15,000, but the appointment is not mandatory. The insurance company contended that the court was not required to make an appointment because the $50,000 threshold was not met since $25,000 of the money was allocated to settle the wrongful death claim with the grandmother’s estate. Under this reasoning, the mandatory appointment threshold was not satisfied because only $25,000 was available for the settlement for division between the surviving personal injury victims.
The 4th DCA of Florida rejected this argument based on existing case law, concluding that the gross amount of the settlement was the entire $50,000 which brought the case within the scope of Section 744.3025(1)(b). Because of this decision, the minors who received no compensation for their injuries in the initial trial will have an opportunity to pursue a second bite at the apple. This case demonstrates the importance of working with highly regarded Florida auto accident lawyers to analyze subtle legal distinctions in pursuit of the fullest recovery.
If you are involved in a car crash caused by a negligent driver, you need expertise, experience, and proven results on your side. The Miami car accident lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 collective years of experience representing motor vehicle collision victims across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence. Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights. Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald. Put our traffic accident lawyers to work on your case. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.