The following was received from Ray Hemman, Public Information Director, Hutchinson Public Schools:
The lawsuits were "friendly" in nature and were filed because the individuals involved were minors. Had the individuals been 18 or older, no lawsuit would have been filed.
And, yes, for the record, the playground equipment now meets safety standard.
Below is a statement we received from the attorney who handled the cases.
"Because a minor can disavow a contract within a reasonable time after reaching the age of majority, it is necessary to reduce a minors settlement to judgment with court approval to make it binding.
Childs By and Through Harvey v. Williams, 243 Kan. 441 (1988).
"This requires the parents/guardians to institute an action on behalf of the child in the district court. In these cases, called "friendly" suits because the parties have previously agreed to the settlement amount and other terms, an answer is immediately filed on behalf of the defendant (the school district) and a "friendly" settlement hearing is held before a judge who can approve or disapprove of the settlement.
"In determining whether to approve a settlement agreement with a minor, the district court may not simply rely on the fact that the minor's parent or representative has consented to the settlement agreement. White v. Allied Mutual Ins. Co., 29 Kan.App.2d 797, 799-800 (2001). Instead, the court must determine whether the agreement is in the minor's best interests. Id.
"If the court approves of the settlement agreement, the court awards a judgment against the defendant under the terms of the settlement agreement. The public policy behind the requirement of court approval of a settlement agreement with a minor is protection of the minor's interests, not those of the minor's opponent. White v. Allied Mutual Ins. Co., 29 Kan.App.2d 797, 799-800 (2001).
"Simply put, had the injured persons been adults no suit would have been necessary to complete the settlement. However, because they were minors, it was necessary to institute a cause of action and then seek judicial approval in order to make the settlements binding. This process protects the minors involved while also making the settlement binding and protecting the school district from future liability."