What You Should Know about Childhood Injury Cases

Cartoon images from childhood injury prevention infographic.

There is nothing more heartrending than seeing a child injured, and for the parents it can be devastating. This is why prevention concerns all of us.

Millions of children suffer some kind of injury requiring medical treatment every year in the U.S. According to Child Trends, there were more than 9 million unintentional injuries in 2012 among children and youth (younger than 20) that were serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room. There were another 8,067 unintentional injuries in the same age group that were fatal.

Those are staggering and saddening findings. It’s imperative, then, to learn about childhood injury risks and prevention. See the full-size infographic, “How to Prevent Child Injuries.” Then click again to enlarge.

The world would indeed be a better place if we could prevent any injuries from happening to children in the first place. But despite our best efforts, injuries do happen. When prevention fails, attorneys are here to provide legal assistance for potential cases.

Statistical Trends in Childhood Injury

Fortunately, injury-related deaths among children have been on a steady decline since the late 1970s, falling from 27.1 fatal injuries per 100,000 population in 1979 to 9.8 per 100,000 in 2012, according to data from the National Center for Injury Protection and Control cited by Child Trends.

But preventable childhood injuries still happen, hence our concern for prevention and protection. The CDC maintains that unintentional injuries “caused by burns, drowning, falls, poisoning and road traffic—are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among children in the United States.”

What’s Different about Injury Cases for Children

Childhood injury cases are typically far more complex and lengthier than personal injury cases involving adults as the victims.

Consider that there’s a strict statute of limitations that is tolled until the child turns the age of majority, 18. They then have three years in which to bring a negligence claim themselves, now that they are legally an adult. Furthermore, a minor cannot file a lawsuit on their own behalf, and pursuing a lawsuit for an injured child requires first filing a petition that asks the court to appoint a suitable guardian to bring the lawsuit. Settlement funds are usually placed in a blocked account or annuity and remain there until the child reaches the age of majority.

Childhood injury cases also involve different rules when it comes to trespassing. If an adult were to get injured in, say, a slip and fall on property where they were trespassing, they wouldn’t be able to recover any damages (except in rare cases). However, the family of a child in the same situation may be able to recover damages if the owner of the property knew 1) there was a potential danger on the property, and 2) that there was a risk of children trespassing.

In addition, children are not held to the same standards for determining negligence as adults. In childhood injury cases, a child’s degree of negligence is determined largely on the basis of how a child of that age could be reasonably expected to behave and act. And children under the age of 6 cannot be deemed even partially negligent.

Finally, in these cases compensation may go beyond medical bills. Of course, unlike cases involving adults, children cannot receive compensation for lost income, but they may recover damages for loss of future income if the injury resulted in a lifelong disability that would affect their ability to work and earn. Additionally, they may receive compensation for disfigurement, pain and suffering, and mental anguish.

Addressing Childhood Injury in Washington

In Washington, 720 children die each year, on average, as a result of unintended injury, according to the Washington State Department of Health. This “unacceptably high” mortality rate prompted the Legislature to pass RCW 70.05.170, the “child mortality review,” which is aimed at examining the circumstances surrounding child deaths in order to prevent future tragedies.

The Washington State Department of Health’s Child Death Review & Prevention process Program includes:

  • “Identifying circumstances leading to children’s deaths.”
  • “Collecting and reporting accurate and uniform information.”
  • “Improving interagency coordination around children’s health and safety.”
  • “Identifying and implementing systems, policy, and environmental changes to prevent children’s death.”

Preventing Childhood Injury

According to the paper “Preventing childhood unintentional injuries–what works? A literature review,” published in the journal Injury Prevention, the most effective method for preventing childhood injuries is a three-pronged approach comprising education, environmental modification, and legislation. Some of the recommended steps are as follows:

  • Bicycle-helmet legislation
  • Bicycle-helmet education
  • Area-wide traffic-calming measures
  • Pedestrian education
  • Child-safety-restraint legislation
  • Wider use of child-resistant containers
  • Window bars to prevent falls
  • Provision of smoke detectors
  • Parent education on home-hazard reduction
  • Sustained use of surveillance systems