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What is a guardian ad litem and why is one needed?

In legal terms, the word guardian is used to define someone who is legally appointed or is entitled to care for and manage the person and property of another. Many people are familiar with the term when talking about appointing a guardian for one's children in a will for example. There are times when a guardian is needed long-term because an adult is not mentally capable of making decisions or responsibly caring for his or her own needs.

Under Florida law, when a personal injury claim is made or a lawsuit is filed and a minor child is the victim or plaintiff, the court may choose to appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the interests of the child in that particular claim. Some circumstances may require a guardian ad litem be appointed for an adult of diminished mental capacity or for an unborn child.

The duty of the guardian ad litem is to represent the minor's interest before any settlement is approved regarding the minor's claim for personal injury, property damage, wrongful death or other cause of action. The court may appoint a guardian ad litem when the gross settlement under consideration exceeds $15,000. It's required by Florida statute that one be appointed when the proposed gross settlement equals or exceeds $50,000.

It isn't necessary for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem if the minor child or incapacitated person already has a previously appointed guardian. This applies only if that named guardian has no potential adverse interest to his or her charge's beneficial outcome in the matter.

A guardian ad litem is entitled to reasonable fees and costs. Unless they have been waived, the court awards this compensation out of the gross proceeds of any settlement.

Source: Florida Statutes, "744.3025 – Claims of minors," accessed April. 08, 2015

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