Tomorrow morning I will be at Providence Superior Court for a hearing on a so-called “friendly lawsuit”. It occurred to me as I prepare for the hearing that many people may have heard of a friendly lawsuit, or been told that they will be part of a friendly suit, and may not know what it is all about.
Even though it sounds like an oxymoron, a friendly lawsuit occurs when the parties have agreed to terms but want Court approval of the Agreement. In the area of personal injury, in which I practice, and where friendly suits are not uncommon, they are filed because the plaintiff is a minor and the settlement is over $10,000. Under Rhode Island law, a settlement over ten thousand dollars for a minor child must be approved by a Judge after the Guardian Ad Litem has drafted a report and confirmed that the settlement is in the best interest of the child.
The purpose of this extra step is so that an impartial third party will look at the interests of the child to ensure that the settlement is fair for the plaintiff who is unable to make his or her own decision. Since a minor can not enter into a contract legally, a friendly suit, will also make the signed Release binding on the minor. Otherwise, a minor plaintiff can bring a personal injury lawsuit after his or her 18th birthday.
If your child was seriously injured in any kind of personal injury action and negotiations have begun for settlement, you may begin to discuss the need to file a friendly lawsuit. If you are working without the help of a personal injury lawyer, I would advise contacting one to help you through this tricky additional step.