A Guide to Child Car Accident Injury in California

The following are a few essential factors to consider if your child has been injured in a car accident or when filing a personal injury claim for your child’s injury caused by someone else’s negligence in a crash.

Car accidents can be especially frightening for parents if their child is a passenger in a vehicle involved in any collision, let alone a bad one. Children are more vulnerable to getting injured in a crash due to their growing bodies and fragility, especially if they are younger. Children can be more susceptible to suffering catastrophic injuries and devastating fatalities in the event of a crash.

How Children Get Injured in Accidents

Injuries that may be present in children who have suffered the trauma of a car accident include organ injuries, chest injuries, back injuries, and head injuries. The parent of a young child should be particularly concerned about concussions and other possible head injuries, even from a low-speed accident. Having a severe head injury can affect one’s memory and learning capabilities for months, years, and even a lifetime in more severe cases. In the absence of a timely diagnosis and professional treatment, even minor head traumas can harm your child’s academic and professional prospects.

How many child-related accidents happen and why?

According to the CDC, nearly 100,000 children (12 years of age and younger) suffered serious injuries in car wrecks in 2019. This data does not include another significant source of accidents children often fall victim to — car accidents in which they are not passengers but rather pedestrians on foot or riding a tricycle or bicycle.

A child’s size and inexperience make them especially susceptible to being struck by a car when walking, biking, or playing near a roadway, even on a front lawn or bordering sidewalk.

As a result of a child’s inability to recognize the dangers of moving vehicles, a child could become trapped behind a backing-up SUV, resulting in serious injuries even at slow speeds. This is just one example of the perils they face.

As parents, most of us are engrained to teach our children to look both ways before crossing the street, stop at all walkways, and wait to cross at the appropriate time. However, a child is often more distracted, especially when at play. Children may not spot all traffic-related dangers or remain continuously alert and aware of hazards (like speedy or negligent drivers).

It is the responsibility of all drivers to remain focused when driving, obey traffic and speed laws, and be prepared to stop for children.

California’s Vehicle Occupant Protection Laws and Seatbelt Importance

For children riding in vehicles, the law in California is clear. Unless the child weighs 40 pounds or is 40 inches tall, all children under the age of two should ride in rear-facing car seats. Booster or car seats must be used for children under eight. Eight-year-old children or children who are at least 4’9″ may use a booster seat but must wear a seatbelt at the very least.

According to the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), on average, nearly half of people who die in car accidents were not wearing their seatbelts during the tragic event. Make sure your child travels appropriately in a vehicle.

What Happens After Your Child Suffers an Injury in a Car Accident?

In the aftermath of an accident, the child’s health is of utmost importance. Following the collision, any individual able to safely check on the child’s welfare should do so (as calmy as possible) to determine the child’s state and if they need emergency medical services. It is crucial to call and dispatch police to the scene right away regardless of whether you feel there is a lack of any initial injuries or damage. Filing a police report is mandatory in the event of any car accident (minor or serious). The police and their report are critical. Officers will begin logging evidence, documenting accounts from all parties involved, noting damage to vehicles, recording any eye-witness statements, and all the information will greatly aid your attorney in establishing the at-fault party later on.

Your child must also be evaluated for any injuries (apparent or not) by a medical professional following an accident. Superficial injuries like scrapes and cuts sustained from a car crash may be visible. Deeper wounds may also occur from broken glass (smashed windshield or passenger windows) or everyday items in the car that can turn into projectiles propelled by the force of the accident. Anyone able should immediately assess the child for injuries. Moreover, serious injuries might not be visible at all, like symptoms of whiplash may not manifest for hours or even days. This is why seeking immediate medical attention and follow-ups with primary care doctors or specialists is essential.

If your child exhibits any unusual or out of character behavior (fainting, wincing on touch, unusual crying or outbursts, night terrors, excessive sleepiness, confusion, a lack of energy, limping) these can be signs of injury, contact the doctor right away, as these symptoms may signal more serious problems that require medical attention. Get your child the medical attention they need.

You may also utilize your attorney (if you have one) to advocate on your behalf and guide you to appropriate medical care providers experienced in identifying and treating pediatric injuries sustained in a car accident.

Note: Out of an abundance of caution, most insurance companies will automatically replace a child’s car seat after a car accident as the seat may be damaged.

Statute of Limitations and the Importance of Hiring an Attorney

California generally has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. In cases involving a minor, the law changes. The statute of limitations for child victims of car accidents is delayed till their 18th birthday, meaning the deadline to file a lawsuit or settle a claim is age 20. However, there is no tolling of the statute of limitations in cases involving a government entity or employee. In these cases, the statute of limitations is the same for a child as for an adult, two years.

If your child has been injured in an accident, it’s best to contact an experienced car accident and personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Doing so will help ensure you receive fair and complete compensation. Your attorney will fight aggressively to get you deserved compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, other related expenses, damage to your vehicle, and more.

Tip: Keep an organized record of all bills and expenses starting from day one of the accident.