What Is a Guardian Ad Litem and How Does That Person Relate to Personal Injury Cases?
A guardian ad litem is an adult who represents the interests of a minor child or disabled child of any age in court. Generally, “minor” means younger than 18 years of age. The legal definition of a disability that makes someone unable to act on his or her own behalf in a legal case varies from person to person but is mostly understood to apply to conditions like severe mental and cognitive problems, coma, or communication difficulties. The Latin term “ad litem” means “to suit,” giving guardian ad litem the double sense of taking up the cause of person who is too young or too handicapped to speak for themselves, as well as of taking actions that serve, or suit, the child.
To need a guardian ad litem, which often gets shortened to GAL, a child must be involved in a legal dispute. When a Columbus Ohio personal injury lawyer with Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman encounters a GAL, the case usually involves a birth injury or harm from a car accident. Courts usually recognize one of the injured child’s birth or adoptive parents as the GAL and legal executor, but another specially trained individual will be brought in when the child has no living parent or legal guardian or when the child has interests that are significantly different from those of his or her parent. That second situation is far more common in family law cases involving abuse or neglect than in personal injury cases. An instance of a case in which only a GAL would speak for a child in a civil lawsuit, as opposed to a family law dispute, would be a wrongful death case following a car crash that killed the child’s parents but spared the youngster.
Whoever the court names or recognizes a child plaintiff’s guardian ad litem must follow strict rules that are enforced by the Supreme Court of Ohio. First among these is always doing what is best for the young or disabled person who cannot legally represent him or herself. The Ohio State Bar Association summarizes the other duties for a GAL as including
- Learning as much about the case as possible by speaking with all the adults involved, reviewing all relevant court documents, reviewing the relevant medical and school records for the child, speaking with the child’s teachers and health care providers, and visiting the child’s home or residence
- Speaking with the child to determine what he or she wants
- Ignoring what the child wants when achieving that would harm him or her
- Submitting written recommendations to the court on what outcome would best serve the child
- Attending all interviews and court sessions at which the child appears
- Testifying when called to do so
- Showing respect and courtesy to all people involved in the case
- Ensuring court orders do not harm the child and submitting written requests for modifications of potentially harmful order
- Requesting psychological and medical tests when doing so serves the interest of the child
- Avoiding conflicts of interests, such as when the GAL’s financial or professional situation will change depending on how the child’s case is decided
For help with any type of personal injury lawsuit, contact an attorney at the Columbus, OH, offices of Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman. Our lawyers offer free consultations, and we have helped people of all ages. Request an appointment by calling (614) 221-3318 or filling out this online contact form.