A person under the age of 18 is defined as an infant in Virginia. The term “infant” is synonymous with “minor”. An infant is entitled to several legal benefits that an adult is not. For example, when an infant is injured by another person’s fault, he may bring a claim but must do so through an adult called a next friend, who essentially serves as guardian of the infant’s claim. One of the infant’s parents often serves as his next friend.
An adult may settle his claim by reaching an agreement with the at-fault party, which is usually embodied in the form of a contract called a “release”. An infant lacks the legal capacity to sign a release. If there is a settlement proposal that is acceptable to the infant’s next friend, the next friend may sign the release on the infant’s behalf. Virginia law provides that any party to a release may ask that a court hear the details of a proposed settlement of an infant’s claim and approve the settlement. While any party may request court approval of the settlement, it is often the at fault party’s insurer that makes this request.
What happens at an infant settlement hearing?
An infant settlement hearing is initiated by the party requesting approval of the settlement. That party files a petition specifying the details of the accident, the nature of the infant’s injuries and treatment, and the proposed settlement amount. The court in which the petition is filed then conducts a hearing to determine whether the proposed settlement is appropriate. Generally the infant and his next friend appear at the infant settlement hearing. The judge conducting the settlement hearing usually asks both the infant and the next friend if they want the court to approve the proposed settlement and if they understand that approval will resolve the infant’s claim for injuries.
If the proposed settlement is approved, the proceeds of the settlement are paid to the clerk of the court who deposits the proceeds in an interest-bearing account. When the infant turns 18, he appears before a judge of the court that conducted the settlement hearing and the proceeds are turned over to him. Having the court hold the proceeds until the injured party turns 18 is another of the benefits that infants enjoy in Virginia.