Children have rights just as Adults do in Oklahoma. Chiefly among those rights is the right to recover compensation for injuries against the person responsible for causing the injury. However, cases involving children involve different requirements and judicial oversight, given the delicate and vulnerable position that children are in, compared to adults. This article series will cover these topics relating to the representation of an injured child or teenager.
This article will first cover the basic duties involved in representing children. In part 2, we will explain how settlements require court approval. Last, in Part 3, we will cover how funds are actually paid to minor children.
A Lawyer’s duty is to the Client, but who is the Client?
In any case where an attorney is representing a minor, the lawyer’s duty is to the child, not the parent or guardian, even though the parent or guardian is typically the one who solicits and engages the lawyer’s services. Even though a parent or guardian hires a lawyer, the lawyer’s fiduciary duty extends first to the real party in interest, the child.
The lawyer must keep that in mind at all times in the case. What is best for this young person? This is the question that must always be asked and pursued.
If necessary, the lawyer even has a duty to intervene and make decisions that make be contrary to the wishes of the parent/guardian if such decisions are for the best interests of the child.
If the litigation primarily involves the rights of the parent, then the retained lawyer has a duty to advocate the parent’s interest. In such cases, the court can appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s interest.
Minor children cannot enter into Contracts in Oklahoma
If a person is less than eighteen years of age, then that person is a minor, and cannot legally enter into a contract, including a settlement agreement.
If a child is injured as a result of another person’s negligence, the child’s parent may bring a claim against that person for payment of damages to the child.
A parent or guardian may enter into a settlement agreement on behalf of their minor child, but because of the vulnerable position the child may be in, Oklahoma law requires that the court review and approve settlements involving payments for the benefit of children.
Parents May Negotiate Settlements on Behalf of Children, subject to Court Approval
Parents may negotiate and settle a case on behalf of their child. But the settlement must be approved by a judge in Oklahoma, which is the subject of the next article.
In Part 2, we will cover the how to obtain Court approval of settlement agreements relating to children; and in Part 3, we will cover how to deposit those funds into a special, court-approved, bank account.