The Role of a Guardian ad Litem in Civil Settlements Involving Children
In Virginia, a child in a civil suit is considered to be a “person under a disability” in the eyes of the law. See Virginia Code § 8.01-2(6)(b). For a child who is injured who is to receive a recovery in a personal injury cases or who is a potential beneficiary in wrongful death claim, this legal classification means that the child must be appointed a “guardian ad litem” or “GAL.” A GAL is an attorney appointed by the court who must have special certification.
If a child is an injured party in a personal injury case, any settlement of that case requires court approval. See Virginia Code § 8.01-424(B). Virginia law also requires a court to approve wrongful death settlements. See Virginia Code § 8.01-55. Once the parties petition a court to approve a personal injury or wrongful death settlement involving a child, the court will then require the appointment of the GAL to ensure that the settlement is in the child’s best interests.
The role of a GAL for a minor in a personal injury or wrongful death settlement case is quite different from the role of a GAL for a minor in most other cases such as abuse or neglect or custody cases. Although the ultimate objective is the same – to protect the child’s best interests – a GAL in a civil settlement case should have experience and competence in the area of personal injury law. Such experience will allow the GAL to properly evaluate the case and assess liability and damages, including the future needs of the injured minor. Most importantly, a knowledgeable GAL will ensure that both the minor client and the integrity of the settlement itself are well-protected.
At Locke and Quinn, our experience in handling personal injury matters means that our attorneys who are certified to act as GALs for children are uniquely qualified to serve in civil settlement cases involving minors. Please contact our office with any further inquiries about our guardian ad litem services.