Your top priority if your child is injured is to make certain he or she is OK and, if necessary, to seek medical treatment right away. Your next step, regardless of whether your son or daughter was involved in an automobile accident, bitten by a dog, or knocked off his or her bicycle by a car, should be to report the incident to the local police department.
“Documentation is crucial for any type of accident,” says Catherine D. Meehan, an attorney and partner with the Steinberg Law Firm who is also a mom and a registered nurse. “Call 911 and file a police report. Documentation and reporting are the top priorities after ensuring your child is ok.”
Meehan points out that reporting an accident is important both for insurance claims and for possible legal action, especially if the injury to a child later turns out to be more serious than you originally thought.
“There are instances where you don’t know a child is injured, or you don’t know the extent of the injury immediately,” she says. “Sometimes with a car wreck, a child doesn’t feel the pain immediately, but maybe a couple of days later, the pain sets in.”
Meehan, a former pediatric nurse at MUSC Children’s Hospital, says this is especially important when young children are involved because, in many cases, they might not be able to verbalize exactly where they are feeling pain and how intense the pain is.
Meehan notes that in addition to taking care of their child’s immediate medical needs, parents also should consider future medical issues that might be caused by an accident. Say, for example, that your child suffers broken teeth as the result of an accident. Your dentist might be able to take care of the immediate problem, but Meehan points out that crowns don’t last forever.
“Teeth are a great example,” Meehan says. “Crowns only last for 10 years, and then they have to be replaced. Parents should keep that in mind and make sure compensation is provided for future medical costs. Back surgery is similar. If you have one surgery when you are young, there is a good chance you’ll need another one in the future.”
She adds that it’s important to discuss potential future medical needs with the treating doctor, so you cover all bases. If a medical issue arises 5 or 10 years after the accident, a doctor would have to determine with medical certainty that the condition was caused by the accident, and even then, if you have settled the case at that point, you have released the negligent party from liability. Having the right attorney on your side can ensure future medical expenses are taken into consideration prior to settlement.
“Basically, if a child is involved in an accident and you think there might be ongoing problems, you should ask the doctor about that. Something could arise years later,” Meehan says.
She adds two other important facts that might be important to consider. In South Carolina, if a dog bites your child, the animal’s owner is responsible for any damages unless the dog is provoked. And, any time a child’s car seat is involved in a car accident, the party responsible for the accident must pay to replace it, regardless of whether it has been damaged.
As a mom, a registered nurse, and an attorney, Catherine D. Meehan can provide a unique perspective on cases concerning injuries to children. To learn more, contact the Steinberg Law Firm, which has offices in Charleston, Summerville and Goose Creek, at 843-720-2800. For additional information, visit steinberglawfirm.com.