Q: My passenger and I were both injured when the car I was driving was struck by another car last summer. The young man driving the other car had his license for less than a year, and the police found him at fault. I believe we are going to settle this case
You’d better believe that special rules apply.
The law has several goals that have to be balanced when a driver under age 18 is potentially at fault for a traffic accident in Pennsylvania:
- The driver—like any other motor vehicle operator regardless of age—must be responsible for his actions and accountable for any injuries he causes.
- A minor has only limited legal rights to conduct business on his own, so any legal processes that take place must take into account the minor’s partial shield from personal responsibility. The minor may find that decisions made by others will override his own preferences.
- The minor is to be protected from decisions made by others that might adversely affect his future. Parents and guardians may make some decisions for their underage child, but their right to make commitments is not absolute.
These principles are all in conflict. Because it’s not possible to follow all of them at the same time, the courts will take an active interest in any car accident case involving a teenage defendant.
Except, Maybe, Special Rules Aren’t Needed at All
In the simplest Pennsylvania auto accident cases, the Commonwealth’s no-fault insurance law may handle everything seamlessly. You will deal primarily with your own insurance carrier, and you may not have any contact with the teenage driver or his insurance company at all. These cases are mostly those in which the only claim is for property damage, as well as some cases where there is only a minimal claim for injuries (a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for ambulance transportation and treatment for minor injuries). Both sides will quickly agree on the appropriate level of compensation, and a settlement will be reached quickly.
If multiple people are hurt and the medical bills mount up, the car accident case becomes more complex and may exceed the limits of your own first party medical insurance. In that case, it is possible to look to the other driver and his liability insurance for additional compensation. Because you write that both you and your passenger suffered injuries last summer, we guess that’s probably your situation.
Especially if the case is expected to reach beyond the teenage defendant’s insurance and demand money from his personal assets or potential future earnings, the courts in Pennsylvania will require that someone represent the minor’s interests in this matter. Called a guardian ad litem, this representative is a court official, not a “guardian” in the usual sense. (“Ad litem” is a Latin phrase meaning “for the purposes of a legal action.”) The guardian ad litem will act as an advisor to the court, and will observe—and possibly participate in—settlement negotiations. The court will only approve of a settlement that the guardian ad litem approves.
Get More straightforward Legal Advice About Your Settlement
We’re sorry to hear that you and your passenger were injured last summer, and we hope that you have both managed to recover fully from the experience.
Even a minor car accident can be a nasty surprise. Many of our neighbors in Harrisburg, Hershey, Carlisle, Lancaster, and other nearby towns have been just as surprised to find that a “simple” settlement can be complex and difficult. Over the years, we’ve been able to help them along with advice, answers to key questions, or support in the courtroom.
You can also have the Schmidt Kramer advantage for your case, even when you plan to settle your claim with a teenage driver. Call our Harrisburg car accident attorneys at 717-888-8888 locally or (888) 476-0807 toll-free to schedule a free, confidential case review. We charge no legal fees unless you hire us AND we get you a settlement for your case.
Call today and request a FREE copy of our helpful client report, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured in an Automobile Accident?