One of Northern Ireland’s top personal injury lawyers has urged Justice Minister Claire Sugden to ensure children’s rights are fully protected in claims made following road traffic collisions.
Maurece Hutchinson, managing partner at JMK Solicitors, highlighted Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) figures showing that 1,832 people in Northern Ireland aged below 18 years were not legally represented in the last six years.
This suggests that those victims did not have access to independent advice nor have their compensation money protected for them until they are old enough to manage it themselves.
Ms Hutchinson said: “We have been monitoring the increase in the number of children injured in road traffic collisions who are not legally represented and the numbers have grown dramatically – from 57 in 2010 to 455 in 2015.
“We are urging that the Justice Minister investigate to ensure proper regulations are implemented and children’s rights are protected.”
When an insurance company offers to settle an injury claim with an adult who has not sought expert independent legal advice, they may also make an offer to compensate any children who were also injured.
However, the insurance company is not under any mandatory legal obligation to insist that the child obtains its own legal advice.
Ms Hutchinson said: “Not only are children entitled to be represented by a solicitor, any compensation they receive should be protected and held securely in a Court approved investment account for the child’s own use.
“This makes good sense, but unfortunately it may not be happening and there is a risk that the child will not receive their entitlement in the future.
“Parents may not be aware that by accepting compensation on behalf of their children, in the absence of a court’s protection, that they bear the responsibility of ensuring the money is kept safe for their child when they turn 18.
“The trade body for the insurance industry, The Association of British Insurers, has issued guidance to its members on how to deal with the issue but it is entirely inadequate and in any event a failure to follow the recommendations carries no penalty.”
Ms Hutchinson added: “We feel that insurers have a conflict of interest between their shareholders and the rights of innocent injured children.”
However, Ms Sugden has told JMK Solicitors that the issue falls outwith her remit as regulation of the insurance industry is a reserved matter.
JMK Solicitors is calling for Ms Sugden to contact the 1,832 people who were not legally represented to recommend that they obtain independent legal advice.