What are your options as a parent if you agreed to take a settlement offer made by an insurance company but no judge has yet approved the settlement and you have just realized the offer is too low?
Georgia law contains a safety net for you, if you find yourself in that situation. O.C.G.A. § 29-3-3 establishes that no settlement for a minor in excess of $15,000 is enforceable without judicial approval.
If the offer to settle your child’s claim was greater than $15,000.00 your agreement to accept that amount is not legally binding because you did not have legal authority to accept it. A parent may accept such an offer ONLY AFTER a judge reviews and approves the proposed settlement.
Typically the way this issue comes up is when a parent has been trying to negotiate with an insurance company without having an attorney. Often when an attorney does get involved it is because the parent realizes something is not right. Sometimes a judge will tell the parent they need to consult with an attorney about the adequacy of the settlement.
With minor settlements, the “guardian” is normally the parent. That is the language the probate court uses to refer to the person who is requesting the legal authority to compromise (aka settle) a minor’s claim.
Parents are sometimes left in the dark by insurers with regard to important issues that effect how much would be fair compensation for their child. There may be an issue of the parent not knowing the extent of the future treatment their child will need. Another common issue that gets overlooked is the subrogation/reimbursement rights of health insurance and employee funded ERISA health plans. More often, the parent is simply misled by the insurer with regard to the reasonable settlement value.
You may be facing a motion to enforce the purported settlement. A motion to enforce asks a judge to force you to take a purported settlement based on the legal theory that you previously agreed to settle all your child’s claims. The problem with such an argument is that Georgia law does not give the right to settle a child’s claim to the guardian. That right belongs to the Courts alone. Only after the Court confers authority can a guardian enter into a binding settlement. Until judicial review and approval occurs there can be no enforceable settlement.
Incidentally, I have argued elsewhere that the Courts have assumed too much power over family life. I’m an advocate for scaling back the jurisdiction of courts over family matters. But the law as it exists in Georgia at this time clearly puts the power of settlement in the judges’s hands.
If you find yourself in this situation, please call me to discuss.
Attorney Pete Pearson has been working for injury victims for 20 years. Located in the Greater Atlanta Metro Area, he serves clients all over the State of Georgia. He has a sub-specialty in child injury law. You can talk to Attorney Pearson for a free initial consultation by clicking here or by calling him at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564.