I have been asked by several clients if the coronavirus will affect their car wreck cases. No one knows as we are in uncharted territory. On top of the anxiety we are all living through, as a Fort Worth personal lawyer, I am very concerned how the virus could affect injured people’s medical treatment and personal and financial outcomes.
Here are some specific questions I have.
1. Will fewer police respond to crashes?
It is essential that the police come to the scene of a crash and determine which driver was at fault. Without a favorable police report and officers who can testify in court, a car accident can become a “he said/she said” dispute. These are often denied by the other driver’s insurance representatives so a lawsuit must be filed. Juries may not know which driver to side with.
Furthermore, the police report contains important information that the car accident lawyer can use to help his client win the case. This includes the names and identifying information about all drivers, insurance policies, date, time, location, speed limit, weather, vehicle damage, witness’s observations, admissions of fault made, injuries reported, alcohol use, etc.
My office obtains the police report for our clients at no charge. The sooner we get the report, the sooner we can get to work.
More information about this topic and how we help our injured clients can be read in this post:
With all the new infections from the coronavirus and the underlying anxiety, our police officers might not be as available to go to collision sites. This report confirms this.
Even now, many dispatchers ask the caller if anyone needs to go to the hospital or if it is a major crash. If either answer is no, an officer is not sent. If he or she is, they often just give the drivers a form to fill out. They must try to work out a deal with the insurance companies. That often goes nowhere.
Finally, CNN reports that people are now calling the police for – are you kidding me? – this?!
2. Will drivers drop their liability insurance policies?
We hope this also doesn’t happen, but if (and when) a financial recession hits, some people may not be able to pay their insurance bill.
This will be a big problem, as the first source of recovery is from the at-fault driver’s liability policy. Although the state has cracked down on allowing uninsured drivers on our roads, in my experience at least one-third of drivers already have no liability insurance, are excluded from coverage, or have substandard or insufficient coverage.
One subprime company just filed for receivership (bankruptcy) two weeks ago, which has jeopardized four of our clients’ cases and countless other people’s claims and lawsuits.
We always consider whether other payment resources are available from the following:
- uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM),
- personal injury protection benefits (PIP),
- health insurance,
- letters of protection, or
- other avenues.
Please check your auto policy and make sure that you carry at least $30,000/$60,000/$25,000 in UM/UIM coverage plus $2,500 in PIP.
More information about how much liability insurance that might be available is here.
3. Will medical treatment be more limited?
In order to recover from their injuries as well as to maximize the value of their cases, people must receive medical treatment immediately. The sooner that fractured bones are stabilized, lacerations are sutured, and ruptured discs are repaired, obviously the better.
Then the injured victim should consult with a doctor who can assist with their recovery. A medical professional can get them the therapy, medications, and testing that are required. Perhaps steroid injections can alleviate the pain or a surgery must be performed. Our #1 goal is to get our clients back to where they were before the unfortunate collision happened.
If the injured person is afraid to go a hospital or doctor, perhaps for fear of exposure of the virus, this will inevitably damage their physical condition, not to mention the financial outcome.
On our web site, we list these mistakes that often jeopardize a personal injury claim:
- Failing to go to a hospital and doctor immediately after your accident.
- Failing to tell your doctor about medical problems caused by the accident.
- Giving incorrect statements to a doctor about prior injuries.
- Not seeing the doctor.
- Failing to attend doctor’s appointments.
Yes, these are extraordinary times we are living in. Hospitals are overwhelmed and doctor’s offices are closing. But injured people must continue to seek medical treatment if possible. Stopping or delaying medical treatment – even with a good excuse like here – has never convinced an insurance company adjuster or attorney, let alone a jury, to pay more money in damages.
You have heard these, but here are tips to make you safer as you seek treatment or in your daily life.
4. How long will hearings and trials will be restricted?
For the first time that I can remember in the 40 years that I have practiced law, our state’s highest courts issued an emergency order restricting court access and procedures on Friday that
- allows anyone involved in a trial, hearing, or deposition to appear remotely by telephone or videoconferencing;
- allows sworn statements that are made out of court to be considered;
- requires that courts be alerted if any participant shows symptoms of COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms and
- extends the statute of limitations (to allow new lawsuits to be filed) for 30 days after the Governor’s state of disaster has been lifted.
The only legal cases that will continue as usual are “essential” ones, defined as temporary restraining orders/injunctions, family violence protective orders, criminal magistrate hearings, and CPS removal hearings. A transcript must be kept.
The order extends through May 9th (for now). But this can and presumably will be extended. Today, the president said that if all goes well, we will be affected by the virus through at least July or August.
Some judges are still conducting hearings in person. Others are doing these by telephone or video conferences. Lawyers will take the depositions of witnesses remotely.
Here are the latest updates from courts across the state.
For now, the courthouses will mostly be ghost towns. But thinking ahead, once the moratorium on live jury trials ends, there will be a mad rush from plaintiff lawyers to get their cases to trial. The log jam is going to be a problem.
I wonder if judges will continue to have fewer in-person pretrial hearings or even remote trials after the virus is contained. If the technology is in place, it would be more efficient to make this a permanent procedure. Now, attorneys and individuals must drive to courthouses, often far away, and wait for the court on sometimes relatively minor issues, e.g. debating answers to discovery.
Most personal injury lawsuits settle out of court. For those cases that cannot be resolved, this postponement is temporary. It will not affect the right to a trial by jury in the future.
We can help you
We are working remotely but it’s business as usual.
These are incredibly challenging times. We hope that everyone can stay safe and well.