When a child is injured in car, truck or pedestrian accidents, parents and guardians are often in the dark about their child’s legal rights. In this article, our Philadelphia car accident law firm provides legal info about a child’s legal rights to recover for medical bills and pain and suffering after an auto accident.
Children injured in auto accidents as passengers (or drivers if a minor has their driver’s license), pedestrians or bike riders will have different legal rights. There are two key differences. First, children injured in auto accidents will almost always have legal rights to have some of their medical bills paid via Personal Injury Protection on an applicable car insurance policy. Second, a child’s ability to seek damages for pain and suffering will depend on a variety of factors which are discussed below.
Personal Injury Protection Benefits
Pennsylvania car insurance law requires that every car insurance policy issued in this state come with a minimum of $5,000 in PIP benefits which cover medical bills. Many policies provide higher coverage amounts, like $10,000 or more. These benefits are available in the following order:
- your own insurance policy (you bought the policy)
- a policy you’re covered under (your spouse or parent’s policy)
- the policy of the car you were riding
- the policy of any car involved in the accident (this applies to uninsured non-occupants, i.e., pedestrians or bike riders)
Children who are injured in car accidents and need medical treatment would make a claim for PIP benefits using the above order. First, they would look to a policy they were covered under, such as a parent or guardian’s policy. Second, they could make a claim under the policy of the car they were riding in. Third, if they were injured as a pedestrian or bike rider and are not covered under another person’s policy, they can make a claim under the policy of any car involved in the accident, except parked cars.
Here are some examples to illustrate the above.
Child Injured as a Driver or Passenger – PIP Benefits for Medical Bills
A child is riding in their friend’s car, when it is hit by another car at an intersection in Northeast Philly. The child is covered under his parent’s car insurance policy. So, the child would make a PIP claim for medical benefits under that parent’s policy. If the child has no insurance policy coverage available, he could make a claim under the policy covering the car he was riding in.
Child Injured as a Pedestrian or Bike Rider – PIP Benefits for Medical Bills
A child is riding her bike on her street in the Manayunk/East Falls area. She is hit by a car and needs medical treatment. She could make a claim under the policy covering the car that hit her only if she is not covered under someone else’s policy. If she is covered by a parent or guardian’s policy, she would have to make a PIP claim under that policy.
What happens after the PIP claim amount is reached? The child would have to use their own health insurance to pay for any additional medical bills. Then, the child may seek compensation from the person who caused the accident. Part of the claim would include the medical bills incurred after the PIP benefits were exhausted.
Pain & Suffering Damages
In addition to compensation for medical bills (i.e., medical bills after the PIP max is reached), an injured child may be able to seek compensation for pain and suffering, which includes the physical pain and mental or emotional anguish caused by the accident and injures.
However, Pennsylvania law on pain and suffering damages after an auto accident is pretty complex. A special type of election on auto insurance policies may affect an injured child’s ability to seek pain and suffering damages. The selection is full tort versus limited tort. On a limited tort policy, the policy holder and insured family members (i.e., children) can only recover for pain and suffering damages under certain circumstances. Click the link for more info about limited tort law.
When it comes to children and car accident legal rights, the limited tort election doesn’t always apply, even when elected on the auto policy. First, the limited tort election only applies to car or truck accidents. It doesn’t apply to a pedestrian or bike accident rider. So, a child injured as a pedestrian or bike rider isn’t limited in their ability to recover pain and suffering damages.
Second, the limited tort election only applies to the people (parent, spouse, child, etc.) on the policy. It doesn’t apply to people who aren’t covered under the policy. A child who isn’t covered under any insurance policy won’t be subject to a limited tort policy.
For instance, a child is a passenger in their aunt/uncle’s car which is insured with a limited tort policy. The child isn’t covered under any car insurance policy, including a parent’s policy. So, if the child is injured while riding in the relative’s car, the child can make a claim for pain and suffering damages against the person who caused the accident. This is true even though the aunt/uncle had a limited tort policy. The limited tort election would only apply to the policy holder, i.e., the aunt/uncle and their children.
In addition to filing a lawsuit or claim against the at-fault or negligent party, a child may also be able to receive additional compensation by filing a UIM/UM claim. This is a special insurance claim that may be made under the auto policy covering the child. Most often, it’s filed under a parent or guardian’s car insurance policy.