Balancing freedom and safety for our kids is a time-honoured problem for parents, and we all expect our children to enjoy the rough and tumble that is part of growing up. When accidents do happen we don’t generally look for someone to blame, despite overblown talk of a ‘compensation culture’, the statistics show that schools and nurseries for instance actually face a low level of child injury claims following accidents to pupils.
However, there are some avoidable accidents that are caused by the negligence of others and which cause significant injury that should not be ignored.
Road Accidents & Child Injury Claims
The greatest dangers outside the home are on our roads, where almost 2500 children are killed or seriously injured every year. Most child casualties are pedestrians.
Often the accident is partly or entirely the fault of the child – because of inexperience or loss of concentration they might run across the road, fail to look properly or misjudge distance or speed. However, the law recognises that a child may be less careful than an adult, and so imposes a stricter duty on other road users when it comes to children. Unless the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident was simply unable to avoid the collision, then there will usually be some blame attributable to the driver, perhaps for driving too fast or failing to keep a proper lookout. All too many accidents involve children crossing roads and being hit by a driver who could have seen them and avoided the collision if only they had been travelling more slowly or had braked or swerved in time.
In other cases a child may be cycling in the road and the vehicle driver fails to allow them a wide enough berth or fails to anticipate their actions, and an accident results.
If there is some blame attached to the vehicle driver then the case will succeed, even if there is a deduction in the amount of compensation for ‘contributory negligence’. Much depends on the facts of the particular case and the available evidence.
Adventure and risk taking
What may represent a danger to adults can be an attraction to children. The roof of a building, an abandoned car, a building site or quarry are obviously dangerous but those responsible for them must expect that children will be curious and adventurous, even if that involves trespassing. So an ‘allurement’ should be properly protected, with fences, barriers and warning notices, and the extent of the protection will depend on the risk of serious injury or death.
Special rules and time limit
Children are not allowed to bring legal claims in their own right and so a ‘litigation friend’ – usually a parent – will act on their behalf. The vast majority of cases are settled by negotiation out of court but the court does need to approve the terms of settlement at a hearing and the compensation is usually invested by the court for the benefit of the child until his or her 18th birthday.
Usually a claim must be brought within 3 years of the date of accident, but in the case of children that period does not start to run until their 18th birthday. However, we would advise consulting a lawyer and bringing a claim as soon after the accident as possible, so that the evidence is still available and fresh, to maximise the chances of success.
Written by Sophie Davies