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Why Can't Minors File Lawsuits?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Updated by Melanie Rauch, JD | Last updated on

When minors become victims of incidents leading to personal injury, such as car accidents or cases of medical malpractice, parents or guardians must file any lawsuits on the child's behalf. Why can’t minors file lawsuits on their own? The answer lies within the realms of legal capacity, the role of guardians, and specific legal provisions designed to protect minors’ interests.

Minors, by law, are considered to lack the legal capacity to engage in most contractual and legal actions, including filing lawsuits. This limitation is not to marginalize them but to protect their interests, ensuring they are not taken advantage of due to their age and presumed lack of maturity and understanding. Consequently, when pursuing a legal claim of personal injury, wrongful death, or any damage suffered, the law requires the involvement of an adult who can act in the child’s best interest.

The Guardian Ad Litem and Next Friend

In situations where a minor child needs to sue for personal injuries sustained, say, from a car accident due to another’s negligence, a guardian ad litem or a “next friend” steps in. Typically, this role is filled by the minor’s parents or legal guardian, who is authorized to take legal action on behalf of their child. The court appoints the guardian ad litem to ensure the lawsuit is in the child’s best interest, providing a layer of protection to the minor’s rights and interests throughout the legal proceedings.

Suing for Damages: The Process

When suing on behalf of a minor, the legal guardian or next friend must file the personal injury lawsuit, outlining the wrongful actions that led to the child’s injuries, the medical bills incurred, any emotional distress suffered, and other compensable damages like property damage. While initiated by an adult, this legal action centers on the minor’s experiences and losses, aiming to secure a settlement or court award that addresses the full scope of the minor’s suffering and needs.

The prohibition against minors filing lawsuits on their own serves as a protective legal framework, ensuring that any legal action is thoroughly considered, appropriately managed, and genuinely in the minor’s best interests. It recognizes the unique vulnerabilities of minors and establishes a system where adults, particularly those with legal authority or a close family relationship, step in to advocate for and protect the minor’s rights.

Statute of Limitations and Special Considerations for Minors

Lawsuits involving minors are subject to specific statutes of limitations, which vary depending on the legal action and jurisdiction. Typically, the countdown for these statutes doesn’t begin until the minor reaches the age of majority, offering a window beyond the standard limitation period for adults to pursue legal claims incurred during childhood. However, exceptions exist, notably in medical malpractice and wrongful death cases, where the timeframes for filing a lawsuit are distinctly defined, regardless of the minor’s age.

Can a Minor be Sued?

Interestingly, minors are also subject to being sued for their actions. In such scenarios, a guardian acts similarly to the “next friend” in representing the minor’s interests, ensuring a fair defense and considering the minor’s capacity for negligence. This underscores the legal system’s acknowledgment of the complexities involved in holding minors accountable for their actions while providing a structured approach to safeguarding their rights and interests.

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