A minor trips, due to another person's negligence, and received very minor injury. Examined, treated, and released from the medical clinic, and required no follow up treatment. We have heard that the courts must approve any settlement involving a minor. Must we involve the courts, or can we accept a reasonable settlement from the negligent party or their insurance company? Is there a dollar threshold before the courts must approve the settlement?
We have very strict laws concerning minor settlements in our state.
SPR RULE 98.16 provides as follows:
(a) Approval of Settlement Required. In EVERY settlement of a claim,
whether or not filed in court, involving the beneficial interest of an
unemancipated minor or a person determined to be disabled or incapacitated
under RCW 11.88, the court shall determine the adequacy of the proposed
settlement on behalf of such affected person and reject or approve it. If
a suit for recovery on behalf of the affected person has been previously
maintained, then the petition shall be filed in that county, or if no such
suit exists, then in the county where the affected person resides, unless
either court orders otherwise.
Usually the insurance company will pay the settlement fees.
While it is common for an insurer to claim that no court approval is needed, or that they will not pay for a Settlement Guardian ad Litem (SGAL) for a 'minor' minor settlement, the rule in Washington requires that all minor settlements receive court approval.
The rule primarily exists for the protection of the minor to ensure that they are not taken advantage of.
That being said, when the insurer is making this argument, it is worth while to remind them that the rule also exists for their protection. It would probably be relatively easy to void a settlement made in violation of the rule requiring court approval, and that only will result in increased exposure and cost to the insurer.
Now, all of that aside, it would almost certainly be worthwhile to obtain a free consultation with a personal injury attorney on this, because you may be able to get some more practical advice given the particulars of your case.
I concur with the answers provided by Ms. Koehler and Mr. McPartland. You will be required to go before the Court for approval of any settlement which involves money from an insurance policy. The insurance company will insist on getting Court approval. If an insurance company is involved, they will provide all the paperwork, filing fees and attorneys to handle the settlement process. Once the insurance company has actually decided to settle, they will want the process to go smoothly and "by the numbers."
If you settle with a private party, with private money, you could probably get away with making such a side-deal settlement but it is still not a good idea. The requirement for Court approval is for the protection of the minor child and really should not be subverted, even if this presents an 'easier' path.
Many attorneys offer free or low-cost initial consultations. Such a consultation would (ideally) give you a better idea of whether the proposed settlement numbers are "in the range" where Court approval would be likely. You might be able to get sufficient information from even an initial consultation to decide how to proceed.
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