An infant approval hearing is sometimes referred to as a Damages Approval Hearing and takes place after settlement has been reached in respect of a child’s damages (compensation) following a personal injury claim.
Unlike in an adult’s personal injury compensation claim, it is not enough for the Claimant to simply accept a settlement amount and to then receive payment. In claims concerning children, there is an extra step which involves the Court. Where there has been an agreed settlement on behalf of a child there can be no final acceptance of the award of damages until the Judge has approved the amount. This procedure is to ensure that the claim is not under-settled, to ensure the child’s damages are properly protected until they are 18 and to give a defendant (the person/company paying the damages) a valid discharge from the claim.
Once settlement of the claim has been agreed, the child’s solicitor will send the necessary paperwork to the Court and the matter will be listed for a short informal hearing where the Judge will read the papers and ensure that they are satisfied that the settlement figure is fair and reasonable. The procedure is governed by Part 21 of the Civil Procedure Rules.
The child will be required to attend the hearing with their litigation friend and the child’s solicitor. The litigation friend must be over 18 and must be competent to act. Often the litigation friend is the child’s parent.
The main duties of a litigation friend are to fairly and competently conduct the claim on behalf of the child, have no current or likely future conflict with the child and give an undertaking (legal promise) as to costs.
The Judge will want to see the child’s original birth certificate to verify the identity of the child. The hearing will take place in the local county court near to where the child lives.
At the beginning of the hearing, the Judge may ask the child or their litigation friend whether they have recovered in line with the prognosis of the medical report on which they rely. The Judge will then consider whether the agreed settlement is fair and whether he/she is prepared to approve the damages. The Judge will not ever reduce the amount agreed, but does have the authority to refuse to approve the settlement unless the defendants increase the amount.
The approved damages can then be invested in the Court Funds Office until the child is 18. It is possible to request an interim payment out of the settlement amount although this will usually only be awarded if the Judge is satisfied the request is for the educational benefit of the child.
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