FAQ: What should I do if my child was in a car accident?

As a parent, there is nothing more heart-wrenching than the thought of your child being injured, especially in a traumatic event like a car accident. In this blog post, we’ll answer some questions we hear frequently in personal injury law when handling cases that involve a child’s injuries after a car crash. Whether your child was involved in a minor accident or suffered serious injuries in a severe accident, there are steps you can take to ensure that your child receives the care and support they deserve.

a group of children waving from a moving, open Jeep

When the unthinkable happens due to someone else’s negligence, whether it’s in your vehicle, someone else’s car, or even on a school bus, the feelings of helplessness, anger, and worry can be overwhelming. You may find yourself grappling with questions about your child’s well-being, the mounting medical expenses, and the legal implications of the situation.

In the face of such a challenging and emotional time, it’s essential to know that you are not alone and that there are steps you can take to protect your child’s rights and secure the support they need for their recovery. Understanding your options when it comes to insurance coverage and the possibility of filing a personal injury claim can help you navigate this difficult period with greater clarity and confidence.

Car accidents involving children

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 162,298 children were injured in traffic crashes in 2021.  Many of those children were injured while in the vehicle of someone other than their parent or custodian.

NHTSA reports of the 42,939 traffic fatalities in 2021 in the United States, 1,184 (3%) were children 14 and younger. An average of 3 children were killed and an estimated 445 children were injured every day in traffic crashes in 2021.

Some were injured while being transported to daycare or on one of the 475,000 school buses that run each day in the United States. More commonly, crashes or injuries happen while the child is in the vehicle of a close friend or relative.

Immediate steps to take after your child is involved in a crash

After a child is involved in a collision, parents and caregivers should prioritize the following steps to ensure their child’s physical and emotional well-being:

  • Seek medical attention: Even if your child does not appear to have serious injuries, it is a good idea to have them evaluated by a doctor or emergency room physician. Some injuries, such as concussions or internal bleeding, may not be immediately apparent.
  • Inspect and replace child safety seats: Car seats and child safety restraints can get damaged during an accident. Some damage may not be visible to the naked eye. To ensure your child’s safety, it is best to replace these items after a crash.
  • Address emotional trauma: Even minor accidents can be traumatic experiences for children. Talk to your child about their feelings and watch for signs of emotional distress, such as changes in behavior, sleep patterns, or appetite. Consider seeking help from a mental health professional.
  • Document the incident: While focusing on your child’s needs is the top priority, don’t forget to gather documentation related to the accident, such as police reports, medical records, and witness statements. This information may be necessary for an insurance claim or legal action.
  • Talk to a lawyer: A personal injury lawyer can evaluate the crash and help gather evidence to prove negligence on the part of the other driver. They can negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf while you focus on taking care of your child.

By taking these steps and providing a supportive environment, you can help your child navigate this challenging time.

Is my child covered under my automobile insurance coverage?

If you look at your automobile insurance policy, you will not see the names of your non-driving-aged children. Do not let this omission dissuade you from seeking coverage under your policy for any child in your household.

Virginia insurance policies have a resident relative provision that allows children to receive settlement money from a parent’s insurance policy in any situation where coverage of the at-fault driver is insufficient (through recovering under the underinsured motorist or “UIM” portion of the parent’s policy) or non-existent (through the uninsured portion or “UM” portion of the policy).

Every time your child leaves home and enters a motor vehicle, your automobile insurance coverage follows that child. The resident relative provision is what my clients bargain for every time they pay their insurance carrier for coverage.

When I explain this provision to clients, they frequently ask “Will my rates go up?” No, they will not. In Virginia, § 38.2-1905 states, “No insurer may increase its insured’s premium or may charge points under a safe driver insurance plan to its insured as a result of a motor vehicle accident unless the accident was caused either wholly or partially by the named insured, a resident of the same household, or other customary operator.” There is no downside to asserting your bargained-for rights to recovery.

young girl in an arm cast

How much time do I have to settle my child’s claim?

In Virginia, adults must file a lawsuit or settle their claim before the two-year anniversary of the event that caused their injury.  If they do not, their right to recovery is forever extinguished.  Fortunately for injured children, there is a significant grace period for injured minors.  In Virginia, children injured before their 18th birthday have until their 20th birthday to settle their claim or file a suit. 

I stress these dates to my clients because this extended statute of limitations often allows for hurt children to fully treat the injuries caused by the negligence of another. We all recognize that children are notoriously resilient. They often walk off injuries or “play through the pain.”

Resilience, however, should not be synonymous with a clean bill of health. Injuries to children will follow them during their maturation into adulthood and on their medical chart – much longer than the two years associated with an injured adult’s statute of limitations.

young girl getting buckled into her car seat by her father

When we settle, where does my child’s money go?

Long story short: The money goes to the child on their 18th birthday.  The money awarded to your child through trial or settlement is held in an interest-bearing account with the clerk of court for the circuit court where the infant (person under 18 years of age) settlement is filed.

Specifically, under Virginia Code Section 8.01-424 the insurance company paying the funds will (typically) petition the court for an infant settlement.  The insurance company and the parents of the infant will appear before a Circuit Court Judge, who will determine whether the settlement is in the best interest of the child.  Upon a finding that the settlement is in the best interest of the child, the judge will sign an order depositing the net settlement funds with the circuit court clerk until the infant (person under 18 years of age) turns 18.

Contact Allen & Allen to discuss your legal options after a car accident today

If your child has been injured in an accident through no fault of their own, call the car accident lawyers at Allen & Allen today for a free case evaluation. Our attorneys have experience investigating vehicle crashes, determining liability, and protecting our clients’ legal rights in negotiations with insurance providers. This is not a battle you have to fight on your own. Taking care of your child should be your first priority. Let us handle the rest.

You can reach our firm at 866-388-1307 or fill out the contact form on our website to schedule a consultation.