Without question, the coronavirus has affected every aspect of our lives since early 2020. It should be no surprise that personal injury claims - how they are investigated, how injuries are treated and how claims are prosecuted have not escaped the effects of Covid-19. In short, the court system, both civil and criminal, was brought to a screeching halt as soon as the pandemic was recognized. No in-court proceedings, no in-person depositions, and for the clients, no in-office examinations and treatment from their doctors.
As we have learned more about the disease, and the pandemic has hopefully begun to wane as we hear daily announcements concerning vaccines on the horizon, the courts have begun to take baby steps towards a measure of normalcy previously taken for granted. While Zoom hearings have become commonplace as the technology and security has improved, Judges in our local criminal courts have begun to once again hold limited hearings in person. I expect the civil courts will receive permission from the Florida Supreme Court to do the same as we move into the new year. Jury trials, however will remain a difficult issue, as obtaining a sufficient number of potential jurors to appear for jury duty will be problematic. In the past, a certain percentage of jurors would simply ignore their summons to appear. While Judges could force jurors' appearance under threat of contempt, the potential health risks of Covid-19 have now compromised Judges' contempt powers.
Regardless of the current issues with the courts, if you have a potential personal injury case, here are some tips to remember:
1. If you are injured, be sure to obtain medical treatment immediately. Doctors and hospitals have protocols in place to greatly reduce the threat of coronavirus transmission; The failure to follow your doctor's recommended treatment regimen will be held against you should the case eventually proceed to trial.
2. Make sure you have Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage on your auto insurance policy. Because Florida does not mandate Bodily Injury liability coverage, there has always been the risk that you could be injured by an uninsured driver. The economic strain that the pandemic has caused millions of Americans to cut back on auto insurance coverages, including BI coverage. The chances of being hurt by by a driver without BI coverage have undoubtedly increased.
3. At the Heyman Law Firm, we are dealing with insurance companies the same as in the past. What has changed is our inability to request a trial date should the insurer's settlement offer be too low. Simply put, insurers are more apt to make lowball offers knowing that the case may not be tried until late 2021 or 2022. The adjuster most likely has detailed information about your earnings. They may learn that you have been laid off or lost your job entirely. This is a very personal decision to make. Do you try to squeeze a few more dollars from the insurer and settle, or can you wait the insurer out and put the heat back on them when trials are again being set?
The coronavirus pandemic has brought some short and long term changes to how personal injury cases are handled, both good - remote Zoom hearings and depositions, and bad - significant case delays. With the emergence of effective vaccines, hopefully 2021 will return the days of just and timely compensation for the victims of personal injury caused by the negligence of others.