Civil Litigation in the Days of COVID-19
This installment to The Gorny Law Firm blog is intended to provide information regarding how the civil justice system will function during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are not intending to offer technical or medical information in this post. There are many credible scientific publications which answer those types of questions. A very good source of information can be found at: https://www.howardluksmd.com/sports-medicine/covid-19-update-3-14-2020-concerned-physicians-unite/.
Unfortunately, even though the global pandemic has a grip on our society, individuals will continue to suffer personal injuries in countless ways. Vehicular collisions will continue to pile up. Over-worked tractor trailer drivers will still cause collisions. Products will fail. Physicians will make injurious errors. I have heard from many clients and others wondering what remedies will be available when these incidents happen in light of the ongoing pandemic. The honest answer: we know that your constitutional and civil rights in the court system will still be available. But, it may take longer for us to help you exercise them. At present, courts in Kansas and Missouri are literally closed for all in-person gatherings in civil cases. This means no hearings, no motion practice and, importantly, no jury trials. Social distancing rules will not permit such procedures. Jury trials currently set on the docket will need to be rescheduled. This will create a significant backlog in the court systems which were already severely strained. We anticipate seeing this calendar issue get sorted out in the next six-to-nine months. Yes, that long.
Another factor making personal injury cases more difficult and time demanding is our need for the assistance of medical professionals. Those dedicated men and woman are now working long hours to tirelessly assist those afflicted by the virus. Thus, having treating physicians or medical experts give up a portion of their time to help lawyers and litigants will be a “big ask” on the profession. We anticipate that health care providers will need to devote their time to urgent care patients rather than litigation – and rightfully so.
Another potential “anchor” or weight on the pace of litigation deals with insurance companies. Typically, those entities are the source of payment for civil lawsuits, either in the form of settlements or judgments. We cannot lose sight of the general fact that insurance companies make money by investing customers’ premium payments in the market. Double whammo! Their customers’ financial status has taken a downturn with the economy, loss of jobs, inability to drive, etc. And, the stock market and its returns have been extremely diminished. Thus, insurance companies may wish to delay or drag out the litigation process to hold on to their money longer as it will take longer to generate interest on the premiums.
COVID-19 will impact more than just the pace of litigation. At our firm, we pride ourselves on personal contact. When our clients give depositions, they meet with us in advance to prepare for their testimony. In addition, if necessary, we will sit down with clients to go over discovery responses, case strategy, and to answer any other questions our clients have. Unfortunately, that personal contact is going to have to change for the foreseeable future. However, we remain ready and equipped to have Face-Time calls, Zoom calls, or other interactions to make certain our clients understand exactly what is happening with their claims or cases. All lawyers should do the same for their clients in the days ahead as the virus adds great uncertainty to already confusing situations.
With regard to civil litigation, it is not all doom and gloom. There are positive signs that litigation will continue to move forward. While litigation on behalf of injured individuals may slow down, we cannot lose sight of the way the overall civil justice system works. What do we mean by that? Specifically, defense lawyers representing the alleged wrongdoers in civil cases get paid by the hour. They need to earn a living. Therefore, if they are not working on cases and keeping them moving forward, they are not getting paid. Thus, it is also in the interest of defense lawyers to keep cases progressing through the system. Smart lawyers on both sides of cases understand this equation. Our firm takes particular pride in finding ways to ensure cases move forward, regardless of the obstacle in the way.
In conclusion, everyone should do what they can to stay safe and to avoid spreading the virus. Follow CDC guidelines. Look out for the most vulnerable in our society. And, with your claim or case, continue to ask questions of your lawyers through e-mail, phone calls, and video calls. Clients and litigants deserve the same level of communication from their lawyers, even if it cannot be face-to-face. In our more than 36 years of combined legal experience at The Gorny Law Firm, we have never experienced anything like this. Nevertheless, we are confident we will develop ways to make certain that those in need of justice are able to obtain their day in court in the most efficient but safest way possible.