Ad litem is a Latin phrase that literally means “for the suit.” It’s used in lawsuits where the court appoints someone else to bring legal action or help someone defend themselves. Usually, someone is named because the party is a child or an incapacitated adult.
You will most often see this term in family law proceedings where there are children involved. These are usually referred to as a “guardian ad litem.” But, this term will also be used in personal injury cases that involve children or adults who cannot legally make decisions on their own. It could also sometimes be used when the court has to appoint someone to represent an estate of a deceased person, too.
When Would “Ad Litem” Be Used in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
The most common reason that an ad litem will be appointed is that there’s a child that was injured in an accident. The parents or guardian of the child will have their own suit for having to deal with losses that include:
- Medical expenses (past, current, and future)
- Lost wages due to having to care for the child
- Mental pain and suffering or anguish caused by their child’s injury
The child, then, has their own lawsuit that addresses their experience with the accident. Losses for the child could include things like:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental pain and anguish
- Loss of earning capacity in the future
- Lost wages (rare, but sometimes happens in cases that involve teens)
- Future medical expenses that the child will have to address for the rest of their life
Because the damages for the child are different compared to those of the parent, there are actually two separate legal claims. But, those claims involve a lot of the same facts and information, so they’re often brought together in the same lawsuit.
Because minor children don’t have the capacity to make legal decisions or enter into contracts, a third party will often be appointed to make these decisions for the child.
You see ad litems most often when the parties have reached a settlement. The ad litem will be brought in to determine whether the agreement is in the child’s best interests. The ad litem is usually an attorney that has no connection to the personal injury case. The lawyer will review the settlement and the facts of the case to make a recommendation to the court about whether it should approve the agreement.
In most circumstances, this process is really just a formality, and the ad litem will recommend that the court accept the settlement. This is because the interests of the parents and the interests the guardian ad litem are the same—making sure a settlement fully addresses a child’s needs. It’s a rare case where the parents are seeking an outcome that is truly not in their own child’s best interest (although, unfortunately, it does happen).
Likewise, because the ad litem is interested in making sure that a child has all of the recovery that they should get, they could play a more significant role in the settlement and at trial, too. Thus, the guardian ad litem ultimately serves as a sort of “check and balance.” It’s often unnecessary, but in cases where it truly matters, the work of the ad litem helps ensure a more just outcome.
The guardian ad litem may also help parents or guardians with determining how settlement money or money damages should be distributed. Money cannot go directly to a minor child, and parents often can’t get it sent directly to them either. Instead, parents may need to set up a trust or annuity that the child can access as needed or once they reach age 18. The parents or guardians are often appointed as the administrator of the trust and must make periodic reports to the court about how the money is used.
John Foy & Associates can help you and your child with your legal claim after an accident. We can also work with a guardian ad litem to be sure that your child gets the resources they need for a successful future. Fill out the form to your right, or call us at 404-400-4000 to get your FREE consultation today.