As the end of school year approaches, your child is ready to trade his book bag for shorts and flip-flops. On the daily schedule is playing in the park, riding bicycles, and swimming at the local pool or the beach. As cautious and caring parents, we require our children to wear helmets for bike riding, roller-skating, and skateboarding, and also observe safety rules in and around the water. However, in spite of our vigilance, we can't always keep our children out of harm's way. They may be hurt due to circumstances beyond our control.
If your child is injured, hopefully it's nothing more than minor scrapes or bruises, but this is not always the case. When your child does suffer a serious injury, your first responsibility is to get medical attention. After that, following the steps below will preserve your legal rights:
File an accident report. If there is someone in charge of the location, seek out that person and complete an accident/incident report. Get a copy, or if you can't, at least write down the name of the person who took the report. Where you're unable to find anyone in charge, you may want to call the police. Of course, you should not delay medical treatment to file a report; you can always return later to do so.
If the injury is serious enough for the police or an a mbulance to respond, they will complete their own report and you should make every effort to follow up and request a copy of this report as well.
Get witnesses. If there are people who saw the accident, take down their contact information. Photograph the location where your child was injured (a cell phone camera works in a pinch), particularly if it seems like the condition might change (for example, broken playground equipment that could be repaired before you return). Take photos of your child's injury to preserve what it looked like around the time of the accident.
Listen to the doctors. Follow all recommendations for medical treatment by your child's doctors. This will ensure that should you commence a lawsuit, the party you sue — that may be responsible for the injury — won't be able to claim that you didn't do everything possible to facilitate your child's full recovery.
Keep medical records. Keep a record of all medical treatment your child receives related to the injury, including dates and health care providers' names, addresses and phone numbers. You will need to provide this information should you commence a lawsuit.
Keep expense records. Keep a record and receipts of all expenses you incur related to your child's injury, including co-pays, prescriptions, crutches, and other non-covered items.
Watch the calendar. Be aware of time limitations, otherwise known as statute of limitations. This refers to the time you have to start a lawsuit. It is important to know that the clock starts ticking on the day of the accident!
The location where your child is injured makes a big difference. If your child is injured on government-owned or operated property, e.g., county park, town pool, state beach, the law requires you to file a Notice of Claim within 90 days of the injury. The notice must set forth specific information so that officials can make a prompt investigation. Your failure to file this notice on time and with sufficient detail can prevent you from bringing a lawsuit. If your child is injured on private property, a Notice of Claim is not required.
Early consultation with an attorney who specializes in personal injury law will ensure that you protect your child's legal rights. An experienced attorney can help you determine if a Notice of Claim is necessary, and ensure that you file it in a timely manner, with sufficient detail. A trustworthy lawyer will also advise you as to whether the injuries your child has suffered are the type that will likely result in a successful lawsuit and will help you commence that lawsuit within the statute of limitations.
While these tips will serve you well in the summer, they apply to any injury that your child — or any family member — might suffer at any time of the year. So bookmark this article in case you ever need it.
LEWIS BARTELL has spent the past 22 years successfully litigating all types of personal injury matters with compassion for his clients and their children. He is a partner at Kaplan Belsky Ross and can be reached at 516-745-1100 and [email protected]. He is also the father of three wonderful children who aren't allowed out of the house this summer so they won't get injured.