Before filing a personal injury claim, or if you have already done so, you must understand COVID-19’s effects on personal injury cases. While many courts, insurance companies, and medical clinics are trying to operate as efficiently as possible, the pandemic has interrupted usual court proceedings across the United States.
COVID-19’s effects on personal injury cases vary depending on where you live, but it has affected every corner of the country. There are extended delays to the court process, lower valuations from insurance companies, and, in some cases, difficulty collecting on settlements.
Getting Started with Your Personal Injury Case.
First and foremost, the Folger Law Firm is committed to ensure the health and safety of our staff and clients. We continue to monitor information from the Arizona Department of Health Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies to take the recommended steps to protect against the spread of the virus.
Our office is currently open for business during regular business hours. We are using disinfectants, sanitizers, and encouraging social distancing. Until further notice, we encourage communication with our office be conducted by telephone, email, and the use of video conferencing, such as Zoom.
For the safety of our clients and our staff, please do not come to the office unless you have a pre-scheduled meeting and you do not have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. If an in-person meeting is necessary, the meeting will take place in a large conference room so that social distancing guidelines are followed. While not necessary, we encourage the use of a mask.
Are Arizona Courts Open?
As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the country, many people have transitioned to working from home, including the courts. In early March, Arizona courts began moving away from in-person proceedings. The main exception to this has been the clerks’ offices, which have remained open to allow new claims.
On a typical day, over 14,000 people go through Maricopa county courts. During the pandemic, this number has reduced to just 1,200 per day, most of whom are using the clerks’ offices.
Anyone arriving at the court showing symptoms of COVID-19 is not allowed to enter, and on-site staff will inform the appropriate judge why they were denied entry. If you need to visit the court but feel you are symptomatic, you must call ahead as early as possible.
Arizona has decided to delay all jury trials until they can ensure the juries’ health. This delay includes personal injury cases.
While most personal injury cases do not reach the point of going to trial, this closure will affect any cases that do go that far. The courts are currently working with public health officials to find solutions so that they can restart jury trials as soon as possible.
Problems Arizona Courts Will Face When They Reopen
COVID-19’s effects on personal injury cases will continue even after the courts reopen.
Judges are scheduled on one of five calendars:
The civil courts deal with all personal injury cases, and juvenile and criminal cases take precedence over civil ones. Often, juvenile and criminal cases must be dealt with in person, meaning these cases will continue to increase in number until jury trials restart.
This accumulation of cases means that when the courts reopen, more judges will find themselves assigned to criminal and juvenile cases. Therefore, this backlog of personal injury cases will further delay the process of personal injury cases.
COVID-19 effects on personal injury cases also bring about increased difficulty selecting juries when the courts reopen. Many people will still be uncomfortable with the idea of being out in public. With this in mind, courts will likely be lenient in allowing citizens to opt-out of jury duty.
With so many people opting out, plaintiffs, defendants, and their attorneys may not be satisfied that the jury shows a fair representation of the community. In these cases, they could ask for a continuance until the court can find a more impartial jury. A continuance would further delay any trials and cause them to go on for an extended period.
The courts will also have to find safe ways to maintain social distancing when they reopen. The current CDC guidelines state that people must keep at least six feet away from others at all times. However, maintaining this distance is not always possible in the courtroom. During deliberation, juries must be able to discuss the case, and often the rooms they use are not large enough to accommodate social distancing.
How Will the Pandemic Affect Medical Procedures?
At the point of writing, there have been over 16,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout Arizona, and over 2,000 of which have required hospitalization. While these numbers may not seem significant when compared to the overall population in Arizona, it has put additional strain on hospitals across the state.
As a result, if you visit a hospital for an injury, you may find that you face a longer wait time than usual. Some people will also be nervous about going to a hospital during the pandemic. While this is a legitimate concern, it is still crucial that you seek medical attention after an injury for two reasons:
- While you might feel fine after a fall or accident, you may face underlying injuries that require prompt medical attention.
- Any delays in seeking medical attention can be detrimental to your case. If you don’t seek medical care, the insurance company will argue that you were not injured from the accident. They will argue that you are exaggerating or fabricating your claim, which could reduce the value of your claim or result in a jury rejecting it.
Hospitals are slowly allowing elective surgeries and non-essential therapies. General practice doctors and medical clinics are still offering virtual appointments for non-surgical and therapy appointments. While virtual treatment is not a perfect solution, you can discuss with your doctor which therapies and surgeries can be postponed until safer conditions exist.
Unless you need emergency medical attention, you should call ahead to your medical clinic to find out how to keep yourself safe when you visit them.
At your appointment, you must ensure that a medical professional accurately documents your injuries from the accident, even if they only perform a video examination. This documentation will help you create an air-tight case and give you the best chance of winning your claim.
How Will the Pandemic Affect Insurance Companies?
Insurance companies have continued to operate during the pandemic, with most of their employees working from home. While many industries have seen their workload decrease, this does not appear to be the case for insurance companies. With a massive increase in claims, the pandemic has put the insurance industry under strain.
Almost 10% of working Americans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. With less income, many people have had to monitor their spending. That means cutting back on expenses that they would typically see as essential, including insurance premiums.
Under such circumstances, insurance companies will try to deny, delay, or undervalue as many claims as they can. For example, the insurance company may choose not to agree on a settlement, which would take the case to court and delay the claim until the courts reopen.
If people cannot keep up with their car insurance premiums, their policies may be cancelled. Without auto insurance, collecting compensation for personal injuries becomes problematic. If an uninsured driver injures you, it is sometimes impossible to recover compensation because the driver typically has no personal assets.
In these cases, you would have to make a claim for uninsured or underinsured coverage under your own insurance policy. Remember that in these cases, your insurance company will not be on your side and will fight against paying out on your claim.
Despite these challenges, you should still contact your insurance company to file your personal injury claim as quickly as possible. As with delays in seeking medical attention, holding off on filing a claim could weaken your case.
Settling a Personal Injury Case
During the pandemic, you might find yourself tempted to settle your claim more quickly than usual. A faster settlement may be appealing when you consider the time it may take to resolve your case through normal processes, however, do not settle early. Remaining patient through the process will increase, and sometimes drastically increase the amount of the settlement.
You may also want a settlement to reduce the financial stress during the pandemic. Insurance companies will take advantage of your financial difficulties by offering lower settlements than they normally would. Do not fall victim to the insurance companies’ schemes.
If the person or company that caused your injuries does not have insurance, you will find it more challenging to settle. Companies are losing money due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which limits their ability to pay out on personal injury claims. If they file for bankruptcy, you may not be able to collect at all, and if you do collect, it may take a long time for your settlement to be approved by the bankruptcy court.
Remember that the pandemic is affecting everyone in different ways. People have lost their jobs and businesses. Workers, especially those in health fields, face health risks daily.
Keeping yourself informed on COVID-19’s effects on personal injury cases will help you to adjust your expectations as your cases moves forward. While settling your claim will likely take longer than usual, you should still move forward with your personal injury case. Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to find out how to get your claim started.