Where to File
If a child is in already named in a lawsuit as a plaintiff and it is duly filed in court, then any court settlement approval would be done in that same court. If not, then the petition (court paperwork) for court approval would have to be filed in the county where the minor child resides or where suit on the bodily injury claim could be properly brought.
The California Court Approval Process in a Nutshell
In San Diego county where I mainly practice, the approval process is fairly quick and efficient. I usually discuss the settlement amount with both parents—if the child is old enough, with the child present. Once we agree that the settlement is fair, then we discuss which parent, or which person, will act as the guardian ad litem on behalf of the minor child. Then we discuss in which bank or investment vehicle the settlement funds shall be deposited. Once this is finalized, I generally prepare the legal paperwork to file in court for court approval of the settlement.
If the injured minor is fourteen years of age or older, then he or she must sign the document approving who the guardian ad litem will be for his or her injury case. Again, usually the guardian ad litem will either be the mother or father, or close family member. I then file the paperwork with the court. It can be filed with any California superior courthouse within the same county where the minor child resides. I usually file the court paperwork at the downtown San Diego California superior courthouse if the child resides in or around downtown San Diego. If the child resides elsewhere in the county, I file in the nearest courthouse to the minor child.
Once the legal paperwork is duly filed, I then put the matter on the court calendar with the judge assigned to hear minor children settlements. Usually the courts assign a certain time of day, such as Friday mornings, to perform the hearings. I have my minor child client appear with his or her guardian ad litem about fifteen minutes prior to the hearing, which usually begins at 8:30 a.m. We usually meet outside the hallway of the court department assigned to hear the case. I go over last-minute details with the both the minor child client and his or her guardian ad litem. Usually the hearings last about fifteen minutes, depending on the severity or complexity of the child’s injury case, and they are usually done in judges’ chambers to provide privacy. The judge, or court, can call witnesses to obtain their testimony at the hearing of the compromise of the claim, including the attending or examining physicians of the child.127 This is usually not necessary, as the medical reports I obtain on behalf of the injured child are usually satisfactory to the judge.
The entire hearing is put on the record, as there is a court reporter present for these hearings. I have had some hearings performed in open court, but they are usually done in chambers. As soon as the hearing begins, the judge appoints the nominated guardian ad litem into the court record, and signs off on the appointment paperwork. The judge then scrutinizes the facts of the accident, the medical bills, any reductions done to the medical bills, the attorneys’ fees and costs (as already mentioned previously), as well as the net recovery amount to the injured minor child. The judge must approve all of this. Also, the judge must approve any medical reimbursements owed to the parent, guardian ad litem, or conservator. Once the hearing is completed, a court order is immediately signed by the judge approving the settlement amount for the injured child. I then take this court order and send it to the insurance company so they can process the settlement check.
Once the settlement check arrives at my law office, I then contact the guardian ad litem to meet him or her at the bank where the settlement funds will be deposited. I do this in person with every client because I want to make sure the settlement funds are deposited as soon as possible. As the attorney, I have the same duty as the guardian ad litem to make sure this is done timely. Thus, I go down and meet the guardian ad litem at the bank and supervise the bank account’s opening with the bank. Once this is completed, I then file the appropriate paperwork with the court proving that the bank account has been opened, providing the account number and who opened the account at the bank. At that point, I have finished my official representation of my injured minor child client.