What Has Happened With The Claims That Were Active Since And During March 2020 When The COVID Shutdown Started In The US?
When COVID started in March 2020, the Governor of New York, Governor Cuomo, issued an executive order around March 23rd that basically stopped the clock on all injury cases. There has been a bit of a debate in the legal community about what exactly the executive order means. Let’s say there’s someone who has an ordinary case with a three-year statute of limitations, which means that you would have to commence your lawsuit within three years of the date of the accident. For argument’s sake, let’s say the date’s June 23rd. If you didn’t file your claim on June 23rd, that’s not a problem because the governor’s order was extended a number of times into November.
The question, however, is how exactly do the mechanics work? Do we look at the number of days that the governor stopped the clock on these claims? If that’s the case, you would have that many more days from the time the statute would have ended. Let’s say it was extended to 180 days. In our example, you would have June 23rd plus 180 days. Or, is it that it didn’t expire on June 23rd, and was extended into November? Do you only have the time that the governor stopped things, which is only that time period in November? So, how you answer that question has a very significant difference in terms of how injury claims are being handled. It’s not 100% clear. No one thinks that if the governor didn’t extend it to November 4th, that everything had to be filed by November 5th. However, there hasn’t been any consensus that it is extended from November 4th with another 180 days. That’s kind of still looming, and it’s a very important factor to be determined.
Also, there’s been a lot of discussion about how it affects other types of deadlines. For example, if you have a claim against a governmental entity, initially you have to file a notice of claim within 90 days. What happens now? Do you get 90 + 180 days? It’s not clear. Hopefully, that’ll be clarified soon. As of this date, however, it has not been resolved.
What Happened With New Cases Or Claims That Were Filed In The Early Months Of COVID In The US? Were Injured Parties Able To File Claims In A Timely Manner?
I don’t think there’s a problem with the claims that were filed in the early months of COVID. If you’re able to file, then that’s certainly not a problem. The problem would be if you were not able to file due to COVID. In our firm, we hear all sorts of terrible stories. People who either had COVID or were afraid of going out because of COVID. They knew that they were nearing the end of the statute of limitations to file, but didn’t want to risk their lives. They might have reached out to an attorney, such as our offices, but we were told that we were non-essential. As a result, we took a vacation of two-and-a-half months. Even if you tried to reach out to an attorney, you might not have been able to get one during the worst of this pandemic. That’s why the governor tried to extend the deadlines. The issue is that there isn’t a lot of clarity of how it supposed to work.
Will It Take Longer To Process Or Go Through A Personal Injury Claim If I File Now While Shutdowns Are Still Happening Across The Country, Specifically In New York? What Is The Current Status Right Now? I Know Restaurants Are Shutting Down Their Indoor Dining Again, What Is Happening With Your Cases?
Officially, the courts are open from the perspective of filing claims. They have made a good effort to try to make sure that people can file lawsuits if they want to. However, there are a few problems. Problem number one is if someone isn’t able to contact or retain an attorney. If you’re in a position where you have affidavits signed and all documents are ready to be filed for your lawsuit, you’re able to do that. The problem is on the frontend if someone cannot get an attorney. Once they’re able to get to me, I’m allowed to do an affidavit on their behalf. If they’re not able to come to me, there are other ways to file the lawsuit. It is that initial step, however, that’s had a dramatic impact in terms of people who are hurt and need to file claims.
The next problem is that even though the courts are officially open, they’re not open for in-person interactions. There might be court conferences, and the judge might give discovery orders, but the ability to move things forward isn’t available. There hasn’t been a meaningful mode of trial since March. There is a significant backlog of trials. The courts are doing the best they can to move things along, but without the ability to have lawyers and litigants participate in court and trials, it definitely has slowed down the process of moving cases forward and resolving them. Without the insurance companies having the push of going to trial if they don’t resolve the case fairly, they’re not incentivized to settle things too quickly.
To succinctly summarize, the problem is on the frontend. It’s a problem when people who are hurt are not able to retain counsel and get things going. Moreover, the bigger problem is on the backend with the inability of getting things trial-ready to proceed. In regard to the intermediary steps in-between, you’re still able to move forward with your depositions via Zoom and Skype. However, people and the system have definitely been impacted in a negative way overall.
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