What Are the Ramifications for Personal Injury Law Under COVID-19?
COVID-19 continues to significantly impact our daily lives in ways that could never have been imagined only mere months ago. From economic uncertainty due to unemployment, to businesses struggling to remain solvent, the fallout from the pandemic has been widespread and unrelenting. Personal injury law is certainly not immune to the negative impact of coronavirus, and many experts are trying to gauge to what extent the arena will be altered in both long and short term scenarios.
At present, there is some consensus among personal injury law experts regarding what changes we can expect to see (and in some cases are already witnessing) as coronavirus remains pervasive.
- Plaintiffs may be more inclined to settle:
With unemployment claims skyrocketing and so many people facing the pressure of economic uncertainty, plaintiffs with a personal injury claim may decide that accepting the most recent settlement offer from the defendant or insurance company is the best course of action, depending on their personal financial situation. Even if the settlement offer is not what that plaintiff or their counsel had anticipated prior to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s likely that we will see many people choosing to accept an offer rather than prolong the process through a trial or extended negotiations.
- Defendants may claim financial hardship in response to claims:
This particular scenario can pertain to individual defendants as well as business entities. We’re all aware of the financial hardships currently facing millions of Americans, but it’s important to keep in mind that many companies are also enduring financial strain, and that can directly impact personal injury litigation. If we see an increase in individuals and business filing for bankruptcy, the effect on plaintiffs’ cases could be significant. Even if a plaintiff wins a significant settlement, collecting that award could prove to be a ‘blood from a stone’ scenario.
- Injury-related medical care may be delayed:
As most hospitals and medical centers are currently overwhelmed with and prioritizing coronavirus cases, non-urgent and elective medical treatment is effectively on hold. This stands to have a major impact on personal injury cases. For instance, if you’re involved in a car accident, one of the most important elements of proving your case in order to secure a fair settlement or trial award involves demonstrating the extent of your injuries sustained via the accident.
If medical professionals are occupied with coronavirus cases and you are not able to be seen and have your injuries diagnosed, your claim will certainly be impacted. If your injury is moderate at the time of the accident, but you’re unable to see a physician for several weeks, that injury will likely heal to some extent over that waiting period. Hence, when your injury is documented it will be less severe than when originally sustained, and any damages paid out as a result will likely be reduced accordingly.
- Your day in court may be delayed indefinitely:
The current state of the courts system is chaotic and unpredictable. Hours are reduced (if the particular court is open at all), staff is reduced, and consequently the timetable for bringing your personal injury case to trial can vary dramatically from state-to-state and courtroom-to-courtroom.
As such, plaintiffs who wish to take their case to trial as opposed to pursue a potential settlement should expect considerable delays in proceedings.
- Workplace injuries related to coronavirus represent a current area of uncertainty:
How states plan to address the possibility of mandating a conclusive presumption for COVID-19 cases affecting first responders and essential workers is currently a hot button issue. The potential for new legislation varies greatly from state-to-state. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom is reportedly considering a proposed executive order that would substantially expand protections for coronavirus-infected employees who qualify for workers’ compensation insurance.
Such proposed legislation is being met with controversy from different sides. Businesses, including leaders in agriculture and retail sectors, oppose such an executive order, claiming it could cost them billions of dollars.
Nevertheless, California seems to be moving in the direction of enacting some form of the proposed executive order. Last month, California Insurance Commissioner, Ricardo Lara, issued an alert to insurance companies confirming that all workers affected by COVID-19 are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, regardless of their immigration status.
As any future legislation will directly impact essential workers, it is important for such individuals with a workers’ compensation claim to monitor announcements regarding how their particular state plans to proceed.
What does the future hold for personal injury law in the age of COVID-19?
The current COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented questions and potential changes for numerous aspects of personal injury law. The extent of those changes is dependent on whether or not we see the pandemic subside in the near future. Whether such changes are temporary or permanent is truly anyone’s guess.