COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

Articles Posted in COVID-19

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During the Pandemic many lawyers and insurers have been very helpful, kind and considerate given the global health crisis we are all dealing with.

At the same time, some lawyers and insurers have been the exact opposite.

As lawyers we have an obligation (or a duty) to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

This means pivoting and adapting to make things work.

Filing documents with the Court electronically? We’ve made that change.

Conducting examinations for discovery, mediations, pre-trials, case conferences and trials electronically? Evolved to do this as well.

Serving documents on other parties electronically? Check!

E-transferring settlement funds? Yup!

Commissioning Affidavits virtually? Yes!

All of these changes have taken place over the Pandemic to make the practice of law safer for lawyers, litigants, judges, clerks, witnesses and everyone in between so that the legal system can move forward even in the face of a global Pandemic which has cost so many lives.

Participating in the legal process should not be dangerous. You should not have to put your health at risk participating in a case. This is exactly why these changes have been brought about.

Yet some lawyers, and some insurers continue to resist these changes.

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The Global Pandemic has been hard on people for different reasons. Those reasons may be economic, social, psychological, health related, something else, or a combination of a variety of factors. Whatever the reason might be, the Global Pandemic has impacted all of us in one way, shape or form.

The field of personal injury law is no exception.

Lawyer across Ontario have seen different systems come in place which we’ve all needed to adapt to and make work. Courts have released new practice directions; it would seem on a near weekly basis for lawyers and litigants to tell us how the Courts will work in this new world. Some months jury trials are being heard. Other months jury trials are not being heard. The same applies for contested motions or applications.

Below is a list of trends and predictions for the field of personal injury law in Ontario which have been brought on by the Global Pandemic. Now that things appear to be opening up, we all may see more changes yet to come.

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The majority of insurance adjusters I have spoken to during the COVID Pandemic are all working remotely from home. I know this because I speak with, or correspond with insurance adjusters every day. It goes with the territory being a personal injury lawyer.

In phone calls, or Zoom calls I can see their children or pets whistling by. Their attention is divided between parenting, insurance adjusting, and surviving. And that’s ok. We’re all walking on egg shells and doing our very best to manage day by day during these difficult times.

The fact that so many insurance adjusters are working remotely from home tells me something. The insurance companies respect the Stay At Home Orders and warnings from the Government and medical officers across the land.

It also sends a message that these insurance companies care about protecting their employees from COVID. Having hundreds of employees work from their offices, cubicles or in a call centre isn’t ideal towards curbing the spread of COVID. Allowing their employees to work for home is a strong signal that they care about the health and well being of their work force.

It’s unfortunate this same degree of care, understanding and compassion which the insurance industry has shown to their employees hasn’t trickled down to its customers.

What do I mean by that?

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The purpose of the Toronto Injury Lawyer Blog is to deliver news and views on the field of personal injury law in Ontario.

But we’re not tone deaf.

Writing about the stories of a personal injury lawyer can be off the mark in the times we’re living in. We don’t want to be blind or naive to what’s happening around us.

This COVID Pandemic we are living through is pretty messed up.

We’re told that in order not to get COVID, you need to distance and isolate from people.

And once you get COVID, you need to further distance and isolate from people.

So either way you cut it; you’re distancing and isolating; thus making COVID; and living during this Pandemic a very lonely and isolating period of our lives. It doesn’t have to be, but it is.

I know from experience.

My 7 year old daughter tested positive for COVID a few months ago. She caught it from a classmate at school. She had not symptoms but needed to get a test because a classmate had tested positive. It turned out that she tested positive as well.

Where the classmate contracted it from is unknown and irrelevant. The school followed all the precautions you hear about. Students are distanced, masked, plexiglass work stations etc. Didn’t matter. These variants are nasty and super catchy.

It’s really hard for a 7 year old to deal with having COVID. I can only imagine all of the emotions and questions she was going through.  Can I be cured? Will any of my friends want to speak with me again? Will any of my friends still be my friends once this is over? Will I be shunned at school? What did I do wrong? Are my parents mad at me? Have I disappointed them? When can I go back to school?  Will COVID spread to my family or to my beloved hamster? Why me? Why did I get COVID and not somebody else? Am I going to be ok? Am I going to die?

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Lawyers are held to a higher standard. We are. Because the profession demands it. The general public demands it. Our Rules of Professional Conduct command it.

So, when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, the legal profession adapted. A general acceptance of Zoom for Trials, Pre-Trials, Examinations for Discovery, Mediation, Hearings etc. Acceptance of more emails, electronically executed documents and a large pivot towards accepting new technology.

Courts on the other hand were a bit backwards. In person hearings and jury trials were off; then they were on; then the Courts took a wait and see approach. Important and urgent criminal matter trucked ahead. Compelling jurors to leave their homes in the midst of a Pandemic; risking their health to hear a civil matter about money seemed then; and still seems today like a huge ask. But the Courts continued to make that ask of the public irrespective of the health of jurors or others they would come in contact with.

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If you haven’t heard of what a COVID Long Hauler is, you should look it up. As a personal injury and long term disability lawyer, I don’t profess to be a medical expert. This is where I defer to the doctors have to say about COVID long haulers and the potential long lasting health implications by those who study COVID at the Mayo Clinic , Harvard Medical School and the Cleveland Clinic.

Tens of thousands of people who have contracted COVID, have been left with lingering symptoms and effects including but not limited to fatigue, body aches, joint pain, coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, inability to exercise, loss of taste or smell, headaches, and difficulty sleeping. COVID Long Haulers can’t exert themselves or exercise and simple tasks (like walking to the mailbox or taking out the trash) will often leave them feeling exhausted. Chronic fatigue and chronic pain as being reported with COVID Long Haulers can be incredibly debilitating and frustrating. Many long-haulers also report brain fog, difficultly concentrating or feel like they aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

The reality of COVID is that it’s a new disease which began in an outbreak in around December 2019. Given the newness of the disease, doctors have little data to know the the long term effects or recovery from these long term effects/symptoms. Only time will tell. The vast majority of COVID Long Haulers test negative for COVID after the first few weeks of contracting the disease, despite still having these COVID long haul symptoms.

Long-haulers include two groups of people affected by the COVID:

  • Those who experience some permanent damage to their lungs, heart, kidneys, or brain that may affect their ability to function.
  • Those who continue to experience debilitating symptoms despite no detectable damage to these organs.

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Lock Down Life has been no fun for anyone. Regardless of your socio-economic background, political views, or religious beliefs, this Pandemic has been difficult for everyone for so many reasons. Unless that is if you’re a high profile cabinet minister taking some time off for a vacation to St. Bart’s. Sounds nice. If only we could all be Minister of Finance and depart for St. Bart’s in the midst of a global pandemic where non-essential travel is barred.

Speaking of non-essential travel, our new favourite website during the Pandemic has been the Arrivals log on the Pearson International Airport website. 

Why, just today, international flights have come in from all over the world including Istanbul Turkey; London UK; Shanghai China via Seoul Korea; Toucumen Panama; Lisbon Portugal; too may American cities to mention, along with multiple other domestic arrivals. Not to mention the departures to such exotic locations as Mexico City, Mexico; Doha Qatar; Sao Paolo, Brazil; New Delhi India; Lima Peru and the list goes on. But you need not worry. We’ve all been promised that none of these people flying have COVID, and all travellers pinky promise to quarantine for 7-14 days depending on who you ask as it’s clear as mud. While all of these travel plans go on to this day, Ontarians are on a strict lock down such that they can only leave their homes for essential purposes, but you are kinda free to fly wherever you like. And if you’re a politician who makes up the rules for masses, then these restrictions are completely arbitrary and likely don’t apply to you. Go figure. The Government “For The People” continues to be the most ironic term ever. More like Government for Me (and by “Me” I’m referring to the political ruling class and their buddies; everyone else really doesn’t matter).

As a personal injury lawyer, we’ve seen a lot of changes to behaviour during the Pandemic. The purpose of this Toronto Injury Lawyer is to examine those Pandemic trends which have really made us shake our heads.

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Personal Injury claimants seeking monetary compensation for their injuries and damages (think car accidents, slip and falls, dog bites, motorcycle accidents, bike accidents, long term disability cases) commence their civil claims in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

This is not to be confused with a Criminal proceeding or Highway Traffic Act case. Criminal Cases and Highway Traffic Act cases do NOT involve awarding the injured party monetary compensation for their damages or losses. Rather they seek to determine whether or not the accused broke the law, and if s/he did; then determining what is the appropriate punishment.

Another way of thinking about it, is that Criminal Cases and Highway Traffic Act cases are commenced and led by the State against the Accused to prove that the law was broken and to penalize the accused for their wrongdoing. It’s the public which starts and funds the case.

In contrast, civil claims are commenced by individuals or corporations using their own private funds to seek compensation for their injuries or damages. That’s not to say that a public entity cannot advance a civil claim for compensation or damages.

Civil claims are largely about money and compensation. Criminal Cases are largely about rights and protections of the person.

Most people have never set foot inside of a Courtroom, so they have no idea what Courts look like or how they work.

If people have set foot inside a Courtroom, it’s likely not have have been for a personal injury case or a case before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

For most people, when they go to Court, it’s on a Bi-Law matter dealing with Municipal Enforcement (like a dog bite or a property dispute with the City), a traffic offense or parking ticket (Highway Traffic Act or Municipal Bi-Law), a Criminal matter or a Family Law case. Rarely is it a personal injury case.

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My first case reported in the media was a dog bite claim. It involved a woman who has been diagnosed with PTSD. She had an emotional support dog to help her cope. One day on a walk outside of her the common area of her apartment complex; two unleashed pit bulls attacked and killed her emotional support dog, and attacked my client as well leaving both physical and emotional scars. The story was covered by a number of news outlets because pit bull bans were a hot topic; and it was a very ferocious attack leaving serious and long lasting injuries. The case eventually settled out of Court for a substantial sum. Whenever the Toronto Injury Lawyer Blog covers the topic of dog bites, I’m reminded of this case which still has a place in my heart.

If you’ve walked around your block during the pandemic and seen an increase in the number of dogs; you’re not seeing things. There has been a spike in the purchase and adoptions of dogs during the pandemic. It makes sense. More people are at home with time to care for a dog. People have been cut off from friends and family and are looking for another form of love, support and connection. There’s no better time to get a dog then when on lock down I suppose.

But with dog ownership comes great responsibility. Take away the vet bills, cost of food, accessories, training etc. It’s estimated that many of these new puppy purchases and adoptions will lead to an increased number of dogs being surrendered and shelter numbers going up.

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2020 has been a really difficult year for so many people across all walks of life; for so many different reasons.

Where does the hell storm of 2020 start for you? Here are a few line items in no particular order just to put 2020 in perspective:

  • Wildfires blaze out of control and destroy millions of acres of forests in Australia and California. Those California wild fires still blaze. Politicians battle each other whether or not climate change is real
  • Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announce they are “stepping away” from their Royal Duties
  • Iran launches ballistic missiles at two American military bases in Iraq
  • Ukranian flight crashes over Tehran, Iran, killing 176 passengers
  • An impeachment trial for US President Donald Trump. Trump is acquitted. Depending what side of the isle you’re on, this is either fantastic or a disaster. Regardless of your political stripe, it’s a black eye on American politics showing a nation divided
  • Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashes killing Kobe, his daughter Gigi along with 7 others
  • The UK formally draws out of the European Union. Depending on which side of the political spectrum you’re on, this is either great news, or a catastrophe. Nonetheless, it shows a continent divided.
  • Stock markets crash globally, recording their largest losses on record
  • 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed.
  • Death of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter protests across America show a country divided
  • Death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg
  • Death of Eddie Van Halen
  • Disneyland closes its doors. First time that’s happened since JFK was assassinated.
  • COVID brings the world to a standstill with over 1,000,000 deaths and global lockdowns.

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