Cooper & Elliott Blog

Injured Youth: Representing Children in the Courtroom

Posted on Mon, Jul 31, 2017 @ 2:58 PM

We’ve talked before about how pain and its impact can be experienced differently, and be farther reaching for injured children and their families. As Ohio personal injury attorneys, it’s our job not only to understand the tactical legal implications of cases involving someone as vulnerable as a child, but also to responsibly and sensitively obtain justice for the child and the family.

From the law’s perspective, it may seem that a victim is a victim. There’s the physical damage—such as losing a limb or receiving a disfiguring scar; there’s the negative impact that an injury or death can have on the victim’s financial situation; and there’s the trauma that can haunt a victim for a lifetime.

All of these apply equally to cases involving children, with the added challenges associated with youth.

A grace period granted

One issue in any personal injury case is determining the extent of the injury and predicting how long the healing process will take to complete, so a jury can measure and determine adequate compensation.

How do you project future complications and costs from today’s injuries? The immediate effect of burns or broken limbs for adult victims can be fairly obvious. The impact of spinal or brain injuries, on the other hand, often don’t reveal themselves until months or even years have passed and, potentially, after the statute of limitations has run.

With children, the challenge of proving the impacts of an injury to juries becomes even more difficult. We must explain to the jury that certain injuries are more than just a temporary pain or inconvenience for a child—some injuries can affect a child’s natural growth and development. Burns leave scars that may be unsightly on adults. Other scars can be disfiguring and can even cripple a child’s physical growth. Scar tissue behaves differently than normal skin tissue and doesn’t stretch as the child grows. Beyond disfigurement, the child may require skin grafts and surgeries as part of a necessary, and painful, treatment regimen.

Fortunately, Ohio law recognizes these potential situations and extends the statute of limitations in cases where children have been injured due to the negligence or the malicious acts of others. But this legal reprieve is no guarantee of justice for the injured minor.

Calculating a victim’s potential in child personal injury cases

In any personal injury case, a “value” must be assigned to the injury in order to reach agreement on what constitutes fair compensation for damages. That goes far beyond medical costs and includes the loss of the parents’ or guardians’ income and even the potential income for the child.

If an injury leaves a child disabled, their entire future is changed. The loss of a limb could prevent the child from pursuing a chosen and lucrative career years down the road and the medical costs could follow the child their entire adult life as well. The younger the child, the more difficult it is to project how an injury could impact his or her future quality of life and career opportunities.

Projecting the long-term impact of an injury on an adult’s income can be done. Most adults have some sort of earnings “track record” on which to base meaningful projections. Children on the other hand, typically have no such record.

With a young victim, what constitutes “appropriate compensation” often depends on information we gather about the family. Are there family members who are engineers or physicians? Does the family value higher education and would they be likely to encourage the child to pursue a college degree?

The jurors’ perspective

Another potential obstacle when representing children is the jury itself. It takes a special approach to present a child’s case to a jury using conviction tempered by compassion. Jurors tend to bring a different sensitivity to the case when the victim is a child, and therefore evaluate evidence with different opinions and biases.

Some jurors believe a courtroom is no place for a young child. They can be offended if they think that the child is there simply to gain sympathy. As attorneys, we have a tough decision to make: Do we bring the child into the courtroom where they may possibly have to relive their trauma, or do we try to make a convincing case with photos and documentation?

There is no hard and fast rule, and it’s a situation that’s less likely to arise with adult victims. Understanding the nuances of representing children makes us better equipped to handle the unique legal challenges involved in representing child victims in the courtroom.

If you require assistance with a personal injury or wrongful death case involving a child, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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