Can I Recover My Child’s Medical Expenses From a Negligent Third Party?

All parents have certain legal obligations towards their children. Under Georgia law, a parent must provide for a child’s “maintenance, protection and education” until he or she reaches 18 years of age. Obviously, this includes paying for a  child’s medical care, including care for injuries caused by a third party’s negligence.

Mujkic v. Lam

Of course, the parents do have the right to seek compensation from the negligent party for their out-of-pocket costs. But parents need to be aware of Georgia’s strict deadlines for pursuing such claims in courts. The law in this area is sometimes confusing, but judges do not excuse ignorance or honest mistakes when it comes to filing deadlines.

Consider this recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals. This case involved a mother and son who lived in a house owned by the defendant. One day in 2012, according to court records, the son was “cleaning the carport” on the property when he “leaned against a brick wall” that subsequently collapsed and seriously injured him.

At the time of the injury, the son was still legally a minor. His mother filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant as her son’s “next of kin.” The lawsuit initially sought medical expenses and noneconomic damages for the son’s pain and suffering.

During the course of the litigation, the son turned 18. Both sides agreed to let the son refile the case on his own. But the trial judge would only permit the son to pursue the noneconomic damages  part of his claim, as his parents had paid for his medical expenses. A jury eventually awarded the son $50,000 for his pain and suffering.

Meanwhile, the parents filed a new lawsuit against the defendant to recover the medical expenses that they paid on their son’s behalf. Unfortunately, this new claim was filed in 2016, some four years after his accident occurred. This was a problem, the trial court said, because the statute of limitations for personal injury claims in Georgia is two years. As a result, the court had to dismiss the parents’ lawsuit.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s decision. On appeal, the parents argued their claim should be subject to Georgia’s statute of limitations for “[a]ctions for the recovery of personal property,” which is four years rather than two. But the Court of Appeals said that while the parents “do indeed have a personal property interest in the recovery of medical expenses incurred for treatment of a minor child’s injuries resulting from the tortious acts of another,” their underlying claim is still rooted in personal injury. In other words, since the only injury here was caused to the “person” of the child, the parents were still required to follow the two-year time limit for personal injury claims.

In a footnote to its opinion, the Court of Appeals hinted that the parents might have been able to “toll” the two-year time limit during that period when their son was still a minor following the accident. Tolling basically stops the clock on the statute of limitations. But as the parents did not argue this point before the trial court or on appeal, the Court of Appeals said it would not consider the issue on its own.

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