One of the worst things in life is seeing your child in pain. As a parent, you do everything you can to keep them safe, but there are times when it is out of your control. For instance, you can purchase the safest vehicle on the market and be an incredibly responsible driver, but it is not always possible to avoid being involved in a car accident. The statistics bear this out – according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 63,000 children were injured in motor vehicle accidents in 2020. Additionally, 607 child passengers age 12 and younger were killed in car crashes that same year.
Per the CDC, U.S. emergency rooms treat approximately 150 children age 19 and under for crash-related injuries every hour. While this includes a variety of injuries, including some that are considered relatively minor, it is important to note that any injury to a child has the potential to be serious and can impact their long-term health. Depending on the type of injury, child’s size, and the stage of development they are in at the time of the accident, a child injured in a car accident may suffer serious trauma. This could require extensive medical treatment and ongoing care, and may leave them with lifelong physical, mental, and emotional scars.
In the immediate aftermath of a car accident, you will obviously be focused on ensuring your child receives the best possible care for their injuries. It may take some time for the bigger picture to reveal itself regarding the severity of your child’s injuries, the long-term prognosis, and the type of medical treatment and care they will require. When the dust begins to settle, you may find that your child’s injuries will require expensive medical treatment and ongoing care, or that will impact their health and life in the future. It is imperative that you protect your child’s health and long-term interests by speaking with an experienced Tulsa car accident lawyer experienced in handling cases involving children’s injuries.
Timing matters when your child is hurt in a Tulsa car accident
If your child is injured in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may decide to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party. It is important to note, however, that Oklahoma law sets deadlines by which a personal injury claim must be filed. This is known as the statute of limitations. Under Oklahoma law, you have can file a personal injury claim on behalf of your child, but there a nuances in the law pertaining to minors’ claims that would not apply to that of an adult.
For instance, if you do not pursue legal action on your child’s behalf within Oklahoma’s two (2) year statute of limitations, or before they turn the age of 18, they can bring an action on their own behalf between their 18th and 19th birthdays. After that year, the statute of limitations expires and they can no longer file suit. The rules regarding the statute of limitations are much more complex for minors’ claims and if not followed, can result in an otherwise meritorious claim being prohibited as a matter of law. Consulting with a Tulsa collision attorney experienced in handling claims for children will allow any parent to contemplate the various options in pursuing a claim for a minor child.
Special rules for proceeds from a minor’s personal injury case
The care required for a child who has suffered serious injuries in a car accident can be incredibly expensive. You may need to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to secure the monetary compensation necessary to pay for your child’s treatment in both the long and short term. In Oklahoma, any “net” proceeds that would go to the injured child are subject to various rules governing how proceeds for a minor’s personal injury case must be handled. In fact, on November 1, 2022, new laws went into effect in Oklahoma that further codify the processes required to distribute, protect and utilize minor’s settlement funds.
Common physical injuries children suffer in car accidents
Children may sustain serious injuries even in a seemingly minor car accident. For instance, a child who is not properly secured in an age- and size-appropriate child passenger restraint system, such as a car or booster seat or a seatbelt, may slam into the seat in front of them or be ejected from the vehicle during a crash.
Per Oklahoma law, children under the age of eight must be properly restrained according to the following guidelines:
- 0-2 Years – Children under the age of 2 must be properly secured in a rear-facing car seat.
- 2-4 Years – Children between the ages of 2 and 4 years old must be in a car seat.
- 4-8 Years – Children ages 4 to 8 must be in a car seat or child booster seat unless the child is taller than 4 foot, 9 inches.
- 8 Years OR Taller than 4’9″ – Children who are at least 8 years old, or who are taller than 4 foot 9 inches, are not required to sit in a booster seat but must wear a seat belt.
Of the 607 children killed in US car accidents in 2020, the CDC reports that “38% were not buckled up.”
It is also important to note that automobile safety features such as airbags can actually be dangerous for children. A front-seat airbag, for instance, may break the nose or even the neck of a small child who is sitting in the front passenger seat.
However, even a child who is properly restrained in the backseat of the vehicle may suffer serious injuries in a car accident. Injuries commonly experienced by children involved in car crashes include:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Broken or fractured bones
- Cuts and scrapes, especially from broken glass
- Soft tissue damage, such as sprains and contusions
While injuries such as a broken or fractured bone may not be as serious for an adult, they can have long-term consequences for a child. For example, a child may break or fracture a growth plate, which often requires surgery to ensure the growth plate heals properly and the bone is able to grow correctly. If your child breaks or fractures a bone in a car accident, it is important to speak with an orthopedic surgeon who is experienced in handling pediatric cases.
Similarly, if your child suffers cuts from broken glass, you should consult with a plastic surgeon – especially if the cuts occurred anywhere on the child’s face. Without proper care, those cuts may cause scarring that remains a physical reminder of the crash for the rest of your child’s life.
A child’s body is not simply a smaller version of an adult body. Proper medical treatment after a car accident includes having your child assessed and treated by doctors and healthcare workers who are trained and experienced in caring for pediatric trauma victims.
Injuries involving the head, neck, and spinal cord are the most serious injuries a child typically faces in a car accident. A concussion or traumatic brain injury may cause temporary – or even permanent – cognitive difficulties and developmental or behavioral problems. Neck and spinal injuries could leave your previously healthy, able-bodied child partially or fully paralyzed.
Thinking ahead: the cost of long-term care
If your child is seriously injured in a car accident, it can change their entire life and be financially – not to mention mentally and emotionally – devastating to your entire family. Your child may require surgery, or multiple surgeries, or other invasive treatment as well as ongoing care such as physical or cognitive therapy. They may be left with special physical, cognitive, or emotional needs that require specialized care, perhaps for the rest of their life. If your child suffered a traumatic brain injury or spinal injury, it may inhibit their ability to function as a fully independent adult later in life. As a result, they may always need part- or full-time care from a healthcare professional or loved one.
The costs of raising a child who has suffered a serious injury and needs medical treatment and care can be staggering. Accounting for what happens to your child if you are no longer here to support them financially, if they outlive you, is also a consideration that must be analyzed. While these are awful things to consider, they are a necessary reality for parents whose children were injured in a car accident.
If your child suffered an injury in a car accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your child’s medical treatment and care. Do not settle for the settlement offered by the responsible party’s insurance company. The Tulsa car accident lawyers at Biby Law Firm understand everything that is at stake in cases for children. We are experienced at handling child injury claims throughout Oklahoma and work hard to secure the maximum compensation for our clients. Call us today or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after a personal injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts, and has limited his career to representing individuals and families who were injured by the negligence of other people or corporations. Learn more about Jacob Biby.