Moving Forward: Your Personal Injury Case During the Pandemic
It’s been more than two months since our world changed, and most of our country was “shut down” by COVID-19. And although all 50 states have begun to re-open in some fashion, it will be a gradual and phased opening. The Los Angeles Superior Court for example, currently remains closed for trials and non-essential matters through June 10, 2020.
Even if everything goes as well as possible on reopening, the effects on personal injury cases will continue. Knowing this, it is important for personal injury clients and attorneys to do their best to move cases forward.
Telehealth (previously known as Telemedicine)
Your medical records are the best documentary evidence we personal injury attorneys have to prove your case. Getting the recommended medical care is crucial to proving the severity of your injuries.
But during the pandemic shut down, it has not been easy to get treatment. Some doctor’s offices are not seeing patients, and some clients do not feel comfortable going to the doctor for fear of exposing themselves to COVID-19. These are legitimate concerns. However, when this is all over, insurance companies will use this against you to show a “gap” in treatment – and will argue that you must not have needed the medical care.
One solution to the reduced medical access problem, is telehealth. California passed the Telemedicine Development Act in 1996 – the law was repealed and replaced with the Telehealth Advancement Act in 2011. Governor Gavin Newsom relaxed some of the regulations regarding telehealth on April 3, 2020 via Executive Order N-43-20 because of the pandemic’s strain on more traditional health care resources.
Many doctors have remained open during this time and have seen patients remotely using an interactive two-way communication system. The most common platforms have been through FaceTime or Zoom. Our clients have visited all types of specialists through telemedicine – ranging from hand surgeons in Pasadena, to physical therapists in the San Fernando Valley, to world renowned surgeons at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
When pursuing a personal injury claim, it is important you get the care you need and keep the medical records consistent and up to date. Some doctors have been available for certain procedures if the clients are comfortable visiting medical offices for treatment. If your doctor is not participating in telemedicine, your attorney should be able to refer you to a qualified doctor who can see you remotely.
Our Role in Moving Your Case Forward
The Courts in Southern California have essentially been closed for two months, except for emergency situations, and do not plan on re-opening until mid to late June, depending on the county. Even at that point, hearings on personal injury cases and jury trials will be delayed for many months. That does not mean your case should stagnate.
In early April, the California Judicial Council authorized depositions to be conducted remotely, per Emergency Rule 11:
Notwithstanding any other law, including Code of Civil Procedure section 2025.310(a) and (b), and rule 3.1010(c) and (d), a party or nonparty deponent, at their election or the election of the deposing party, is not required to be present with the deposition officer at the time of the deposition.
This means that all participants, including the court reporter, may be in different locations and participate remotely through media such as deposition software based upon the Zoom platform.
Conducting depositions this way allows our injury cases to keep moving forward and not sit dormant for many months. We have participated in many of these remote depositions, which have worked well. Exhibits are shared electronically, participants can annotate exhibits on the screen, depositions can be recorded, and a real time feed can be used.
Not all cases and depositions are suited to be done remotely. But with the proper precautions to ensure no improper conduct by opposing counsel, remote depositions are a valuable tool to keep the cases moving.
Other tools we’re using include remote Mediations, virtual focus groups, and extensive written discovery. We’ve found all three of these methods to be very effective.
At the end of the day, we may not be able to do anything to avoid delays in getting to trial. But using many or all of these tools, we can make sure you are prepared for settlement or trial, when the time comes.
David B. Bobrosky is a Personal Injury attorney and Shareholder at The Injury Legal Team.