What Effect Has the Covid-19 Pandemic Had on Personal Injury Lawsuits in Florida?
One of the questions our experienced Florida personal injury attorneys at Schwed Adams & McGinley have received more than virtually any other from both existing and potential clients during the coronavirus pandemic has been what effect the pandemic has had and likely will continue to have on both existing and potential personal injury lawsuits. Clients who already have a pending lawsuit wonder what effect the widespread shutdowns and closures have had and will continue to have on their existing lawsuit. Clients who have not yet filed suit against the party whose negligence injured them but would like to do so wonder if the courts are still open and whether their case will go anywhere even if they can still file suit.
Both state and federal courts in Florida are open, although not physically open in many places except for certain emergency proceedings or filings. Most suspended all jury trials beginning on March 13th. The positive news is that, after some initial hiccups when court staff and judges were first getting used to handling many matters remotely over Zoom, other video conferencing platforms and the telephone, most courts are now still operating in all other respects, including holding hearings of all kinds. Indeed, getting hearings scheduled before judges is much easier now given that the judges are not tied up in trials. Depositions are being taken, most by Zoom. Mediations are also being conducted, many of them remotely by Zoom. Therefore, our attorneys still have been able to advance our clients’ cases except for actually trying cases in front of a jury.
The Pandemic and Florida Courts: Still Open for (Remote) Business, Just Not For Jury Trials
Florida’s courts have been shut for virtually all in-person business since March. Jury trials have been suspended since March 13th. Since that time, a large number of criminal, business and personal injury cases that would otherwise have gone to trial are not being tried. This has resulted in a backlog of cases waiting to be tried when the courts reopen and jury trials resume. Given the constitutional ramifications associated with criminal trials, those are expected to be among the first cases to be tried once the courts are fully opened for jury trial.
Nevertheless, as discussed above, virtually all court proceedings are still taking place. Depositions are being conducted remotely via Zoom and, although not seamless, this process was more successful than may have first been expected when the pandemic hit. Most judges have adapted and are having hearings of just about every kind using Zoom or telephonic means. Mediations are even routinely taking place using Zoom and cases are settling.
The courts are even finding ways to explore the possibility of resuming trials using several novel solutions. Under several different pilot programs initiated by the Florida Supreme Court, some courts have begun to hold either remote or very limited in-person jury trials, with the first in-person trial in Florida taking place in late August in Flagler County. That criminal case resulted in a conviction for a defendant who was accused of stealing an SUV. The Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Miami held a hybrid remote-live trial in July in an insurance dispute between a homeowner and his homeowner’s insurer in which jurors were selected utilizing Zoom, but then gathered in person for a one-day live trial. This resulted in a verdict for the homeowner. The Fourth Circuit in Jacksonville became the first court in the country to hold an entirely remote trial, with two days of jury selection and then a day-long trial on damages in a case in which a woman was assaulted outside a nightclub by bouncers. The defendant had failed to participate in the lawsuit, so the case was being tried solely on damages.
What Is the Plan Going Forward?
Florida’s courts, on a county-by-county basis, are looking at ways in which they can safely reopen for business, as stipulated by the October 15th Administrative Order from the Supreme Court of Florida. Court reopening protocols and practices will be guided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and align with guidance provided by the Florida Department of Health, county health departments, and local medical professionals. Each court’s operational plan must also meet specific criteria benchmarks mandated by the Supreme Court.
At this time some circuit courts are opening for limited criminal trials, but no plans have been announced for resuming trials in civil cases. It is unclear when in-person jury trials will resume on a regular basis and, although personal injury cases may be assigned a high priority when jury trials more widely resume, criminal trials are expected to take priority for constitutional reasons.
More circuit courts are opening for limited criminal trials, but no plans have been announced for resuming trials in civil cases. It is unclear when in-person jury trials will resume and, although personal injury cases likely will be assigned a high priority when jury trials more widely resume, criminal trials are expected to take priority for constitutional reasons.
Contact the Experienced Lawyers of Schwed, Adams & McGinley
The experienced personal injury attorneys of Schwed, Adams & McGinley have more than 150 combined years of experience representing Floridians who have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence in a wide variety of scenarios. At Schwed Adams & McGinley, our firm was built on service to the public and our community and that will never stop, regardless of the state of the pandemic or any other issue that may arise. Our offices have remained open and staffed throughout the pandemic, and we are here to assist if you have been injured because of someone else’s negligence. Regardless of whether courts are holding trials remotely or in person, we always fight for our clients to receive the compensation they are entitled to under Florida law. Call us toll free at 877.694.6079 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer if you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence.