In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has taken many of the things that seemed to loom largest in our lives and pushed them far into the background. In ordinary times, a personal injury case can feel like the center of your world, with much of your attention focused on getting a fair settlement or otherwise making sure your case reaches a favorable conclusion. Under the extraordinary circumstances that the coronavirus has ushered in, you might not think about your injury claim until you have to. But when the time comes, here are some things to keep in mind.
With so many people facing so much financial uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic and necessary containment efforts, if your personal injury case hasn't settled yet, you might be tempted to jump at the defendant's (or the insurance company's) most recent settlement offer in the hope of obtaining a quick and crucial cash infusion.
But if you can afford to wait, and perhaps find alternate sources of income or financial support during the coronavirus pandemic, it could pay off in the long run. Learn more about why settling your injury case early is almost always a bad idea.
Pressure to settle might not necessarily be internal. While you could be fortunate enough to find your financial situation largely unchanged amidst the coronavirus pandemic, in these newly-uncertain times the at-fault party's insurance company could be even more motivated than usual to minimize their financial commitment to paying out claims. So you might find the insurer hounding you to settle while not necessarily putting a fair dollar value on your injury claim.
The Defendant's Financial Picture May Suddenly Be Bleak. For example, let's say you've brought a slip and fall lawsuit against your local gym. You've agreed to terms on a settlement agreement, but you've yet to receive a settlement check. Or assume that same lawsuit went to trial, you received a judgment in your favor, but you haven't been able to collect because the defendant is appealing the verdict. In the meantime, in the wake of the coronavirus, the gym has closed and its owners eventually decide to file for bankruptcy. Now you've likely become just one in a potentially long line of creditors, and whether or not you actually receive your settlement check or court judgment—or some portion of what you're owed—is very much an open question.
While the coronavirus outbreak has hit certain parts of the country harder than others, hospitals and other health care facilities across the U.S. are preparing to treat potentially-unprecedented numbers of patients. That means your local medical center may be (or could soon start) prioritizing coronavirus-related care, and delaying the provision of non-critical care.
Maybe you've got a follow-up appointment scheduled with your primary care provider to see if your car accident injuries are fully healed, or you've been receiving physical therapy twice a week. These and many other routine kinds of medical services might not be available these days.
All of this means that if you're still receiving necessary medical care for injuries caused by the accident that led to your personal injury case, but you're unable to get that care, you're probably not going to reach what's known as "maximum medical improvement" (MMI). Until you're at MMI, the complete picture of your losses ("damages" in legalese) isn't clear, and neither is the fair value of your injury case. That's one more reason why, if you can afford to put off settling your injury claim, it's probably in your best interest to wait.
Nationwide, many businesses have reduced hours, limited interaction with customers, or closed their doors completely in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The civil court systems in every state are taking similar steps, and any given courthouse's status can change quickly.
It's true that most personal injury cases settle, but if you've filed a personal injury lawsuit in court, chances are you've got at least one upcoming hearing or conference on the court calendar (whether it's a status conference, mandatory settlement conference, summary judgment hearing, or some other procedural step on the road to a civil trial). Be prepared for significant delays in the court-based timeline of your personal injury case.
And even if the court is ready to move forward with an important procedural step in your personal injury lawsuit, you might not be. No matter how tangentially your circumstances seem to relate to the coronavirus, if there's ever been a time for our civil courts to demonstrate leniency and compassion, it's now. Talk to your personal injury lawyer about asking the court for a continuance, or about any other coronavirus-related concerns you have.