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Lawsuits Brought By Children

Minor children do not have the legal capacity to bring a lawsuit on their own. Any time a lawsuit needs to be brought for injuries caused to a child, such as by a negligent doctor or driver, the suit must be filed by the child's parent or guardian. Although the attorney retained by the parent or guardian is ethically obligated to protect the child's interests, he or she is technically the lawyer for the adults. However, when the attorney or the involved adults think it appropriate, the court may be asked to appoint separate counsel to represent the child.

A person who has been appointed to represent the child is generally referred to as the child's "guardian ad litem." A guardian ad litem is not hired by the parents but, rather, is appointed by the court to act on the child's behalf. Generally, the responsibilities of the guardian ad litem include investigating the child's claims, reporting back to the court about what this investigation reveals, and making sure that the child has an effective advocate.

Courts often appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child when there is a conflict between the interests of the adults and the interests of the child, such as in automobile accident cases where both the parents and the child are injured but the defendant has only limited insurance coverage.

Other kinds of cases where a guardian ad litem is regularly appointed include foster-care proceedings involving a child, some kinds of inheritance and contested custody cases, and cases where the child is being sued as a defendant.

Like all lawsuits, suits brought on behalf of children are subject to statutes of limitations, which are laws that limit how long you may wait before bringing a legal claim against another person. Generally, the statute of limitations in a personal injury case is 2 years, while the statute of limitations in contract cases is 5 or 10 years, depending on the type of contract.

Since children cannot file lawsuits on their own behalf, the statute of limitations on a child's claims is "tolled" (suspended) while the child remains in the care of his or her parent or custodial guardian. In these cases, if the parent or guardian does not bring a suit on the child's behalf, the statute of limitations on the child's claim does not begin to run until the child becomes an adult at age 18. Thus, if a child is injured during his or her minority, he or she would have the right to file suit until he or she turned 20--2 years past the 18th birthday.

This is only the general rule, and some exceptions apply. For instance, in medical malpractice cases, a child only has eight years from the time of the discovery of the malpractice to bring a lawsuit, even if the child has not yet turned 18 years of age.

This website is not intended to constitute legal advice or the provision of legal services. By posting and/or maintaining the website and its contents, Lucas Law does not intend to solicit business from clients located in states or jurisdictions outside of Illinois wherein Lucas Law or its individual attorney(s) are not licensed or authorized to practice law.

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