A parent's greatest fear is the risk of harm to their children. According to the latest Illinois census numbers, nearly a quarter of Illinois residents are under 18 years old. The state's youngest residents are busy: they ride in school buses and personal vehicles along the state's interstates and busy roadways, visit the state's many public areas and retail stores, play in parks, and obtain medical services through area physicians and hospitals. While life is normal for most Illinois youth, there is always a risk of injury in nearly everything they do.
If someone else's negligence injures your child, you are likely scared and seeking justice. The state's personal injury claims process offers two ways to obtain compensation: you can file a claim on the minor's behalf, or the minor can wait to reach the age of majority and seek compensation on their own. Victims and their families should determine the timing of their claims based on their unique circumstances and needs.
Types of Accidents that Injure Minors in Illinois
As noted, negligence causes many Illinois accidents, injuring minors. Here is a look at some of these accidents.
Falls are the leading cause of injuries among children of all ages but are particularly common for children under five.
Children in this age group are more susceptible to falling because of their developmental traits, including:
- Coordination and balance issues when walking or running.
- Weight imbalance due to the larger size of a child's head in proportion to their body. Young children are top-heavy, making it harder to maintain balance.
- Lack of understanding or experience teaching the child to use caution, such as hanging onto a railing when navigating a stairwell.
Property owners and possessors including the owners or renters of residential properties, the owners or managers of commercial properties, or agencies that maintain public properties throughout Illinois all have a responsibility to regularly inspect their property for features that could injure guests and promptly mitigate these hazards.
Being Struck by an Object
Being struck by an object is another common cause of child injuries. These accidents happen from a falling box or ball, getting trapped beneath a heavy piece of furniture, or being struck by a car while walking or riding a bike.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
While falls are the most common cause of injuries to children, motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of fatal childhood injuries. Cars crash into children riding bikes, walking, and riding in vehicles, like a car or school bus. Children between the ages of 15-18 are driving, and teen drivers are among those most likely to be in an accident.
Drowning incidents are prevalent in very young children whose natural curiosity can draw them to unsupervised bodies of water. The attractive nuisance doctrine in Illinois places an extra duty of care on property owners with swimming pools and other hazardous property features that could cause a child to wander onto a property and drown. This duty involves properly securing the pool with a gate the child cannot enter unless accompanied by an adult.
In addition to drownings involving child trespassers, improperly supervised children can drown due to clothing or jewelry being caught in the pool's filtration or drain systems or as a result of hitting their head when diving into the pool. Small children can drown when left unattended in the bathtub or falling into containers of water, such as buckets or toilets.
The natural curiosity and the lack of understanding about the dangers surrounding them are among the reasons that children are the most common victim of dog bites, especially boys between five and nine years old. Because of the small stature of a child, dog bite injuries most often occur in the head or neck area. Common triggers for dog bite injuries for young children are when the dog guards its food, toys, or other possessions. Dogs usually bite older children due to their encroaching on the dog's territory.
Property owners must protect others from injuries caused by their dog by keeping it in a secure enclosure or on a leash. Different states have laws on how to legally handle dog bites. Some states have a one-bite law, which essentially states that the dog's owner is not liable for injuries caused to others if they did not have reason to know that the dog was capable of aggression, such as a previous biting incident. However, other states including Illinois hold that the dog's owner is responsible for all injuries incurred by others due to the dog, regardless of the animal's history of biting.
Medical malpractice refers to errors made by health care providers that injure a patient. Medical treatment can injure a child in many ways, and these injuries often occur during the birth process. Common errors that injure newborns include failing to diagnose and treat a medical condition involving the mother or child during pregnancy, performing a cesarean section on time when one is medically indicated, or properly monitoring the newborn's vitals in the hours after delivery.
Other medical errors that can injure children include:
- Diagnosis errors, including misdiagnosing or failing to diagnose a serious medical condition.
- Prescription errors, such as giving a child the wrong dose or the wrong medication.
- Surgical errors, including wrong-site surgery, wrong-patient surgery, unnecessary surgery, or making a mistake during a procedure that results in a new injury.
- Premature discharge from the hospital following treatment, or failure to provide the child's parents with adequate instructions on maintaining their child's home treatment.
- Failing to inform the child's parents of all known risks of a procedure, especially if parents would not have consented to the procedure if they had received information about it.
Seeking Compensation for a Child's Injury
When someone else's negligence injures a child, the Illinois personal injury claims process provides the opportunity to seek compensation in two ways:
- By filing a claim against the related liability insurance policy held by the at-fault party.
- If the at-fault party's insurance provider fails to compensate the claim, you file a personal injury lawsuit.
Children under 18 cannot sign contracts or enter into legal agreements independently. Because of this limitation, they cannot immediately file their own personal injury claim. Instead, they must wait until they reach 18, or their parents must file the claim for them. The process depends on the individual circumstances of the child and their parents and the type of claim filed.
Filing the Claim for the Child
If the parents, legal guardian, or court-appointed guardian ad-litem files a claim for the child, the court holds the claim to the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims in Illinois. This limitation means the adult must file a lawsuit within two years of the child's injury.
Failing to file the claim within this period can result in losing the ability to use the court process when seeking compensation on the child's behalf. Without the court process as leverage, late filing claimants often cannot get the insurance provider to settle the claim either.
There are slightly different rules for claims involving a medical provider's error that injured a child. Victims must file all medical malpractice claims including birth injury claims within eight years of the accident's date or before the child turns 22.
While filing a claim on a child's behalf can compensate families faster than waiting for the child to turn 18 and filing their claim independently, the court must approve any settlement between the insurance provider and the child's parent or guardian.
Waiting for the Child to Turn 18
Except for some types of medical malpractice claims, a child can pursue their injury claim once they turn 18. Individuals wishing to file a claim for an injury they incurred as a child must do so within two years after their 18th birthday in Illinois.
Victims must show the following elements to prove liability in a child's personal injury claim:
- The at-fault party had a duty within the circumstances to take reasonable actions to avoid injuring others. Reasonable actions in a car accident claim include driving the vehicle safely per Illinois traffic laws. In a premises liability manner, a property owner's reasonable actions are to regularly inspect the property for hazardous features, promptly mitigate all hazards, provide ample warning, and secure hazards to avoid harming a child trespasser.
- A breach in duty occurred when the at-fault party took careless or reckless actions contrary to their duty to protect others.
- Because of the breach, an accident occurred, injuring a child and resulting in expenses, including psychological effects on their life.
The Type of Compensation Available
Personal injury claimants including claimants injured during childhood have the right to use the Illinois personal injury claims process to seek compensation for the expenses and the effects of the injury.
Common expenses and effects in child injury claims include:
- Past, current, and future medical expenses.
- Wage loss incurred by the parents due to any additional caretaking responsibilities.
- In some cases, the child's lost future earning capacity due to permanent disabilities.
- The child's physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.
How an Attorney Can Help You With an Illinois Child Injury Claim?
Few situations make parents feel more helpless than having their child injured by someone else's negligence. If someone negligently injures your child, you likely have many questions, including how their injury will affect them and how to ensure they have the strongest possible chance of recovery.
An experienced Illinois child injury attorney can provide the legal understanding and guidance necessary to make crucial decisions regarding your child's legal claim.
Contact your child injury lawyer who will help you obtain the maximum compensation available for your case.