Articles Posted in COVID-19

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I had an in person attendance in Court for the first time since I can remember dating back to when the Pandemic shut down the Courts. During the Pandemic, and afterwards, most Courts have opted for virtual attendances. This has lead to increased efficiency for our Courts. They can do more, with less resources. It also translates into considerable savings for clients and self represented litigants. They don’t have to pay for their lawyer’s travel time, or any mileage, parking etc. Clients and litigants also don’t have to travel either. They can log in to Court from the comfort of their own home. That is more comfortable, and less intimidating for clients and litigants.

But this Court (in Guelph) required an in person attendance for the hearing of an Application under the Insurance Act as it related to a catastrophic car accident case. It was nice to be back in Court, in person.

A few observations after a long lay off from in person Court appearances.

As a lawyer, you take it for granted that you appear robbed in front of a Judge, while litigants and clients are in plain clothes. The robes really make you stand out. This has its positives, and negatives.

Because I was wearing my litigation robes, I was approached by two separate people in the Courthouse who were looking for directions, and also looking for legal advice; and in turn, looking for a lawyer.

As a robbed lawyer, in the Courthouse, you become a part of the production so to say. You wouldn’t see a gowned up lawyer anywhere else but a Courthouse. The robes signal to the world that you are a lawyer, and that they are in a Courthouse where laws get made.

Being asked for legal advice, or being asked whether or not I could help a stranger with their case was not odd. It kinda happens all of the time once people find out that you’re a lawyer. Everyone seems to have a hypothetical question regarding a “friend’s” legal problem which they want solved, or some tips on how to manage the situation. But, it had been a long time since that happened randomly inside of a Courthouse because it had been so long since I needed to attend at Court in person.

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When I was a young lawyer, I worked at a law firm in Yorkville that had 2 dogs and a cat.

I had never worked in any office environment that had any sort of animal. Having a dog, or a cat, let alone multiple animals in a law office, seemed very strange to me. When I thought about the idea of a traditional law firm, the image of a dog or a cat in the office never came to mind.

The previous law firms I worked at were in large office towers; on Bay Street in Downtown Toronto. There were no animals allowed in those office towers. Even if there were animals allowed, the financial district was not the ideal place to walk a dog. Taking the dog in a business elevator with all of those white collar executives wasn’t the right fit. Nor was going outside of your tower multiple times per day to get the dog some fresh air.

But I was not working at a traditional law firm.  I was working at a personal injury law firm. And the thing about personal injury law, is…well…you guessed it…It’s rather personal.

Personal injury law firms do not represent large institutional clients like multi billion dollar, multi national corporations. Personal injury law firms represent everyday people, like you and me. So, the idea of having an office dog, was not so far fetched.

I’ve loved dogs all of my life. But, not to the point that I felt the urge to take my pet to work.

So what was it like having a dog (or two), along with a cat in the workplace?

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In March 2021 my daughter tested positive for COVID. She contracted it simply by going to school. She was asymptotic, but the positive test certainly impacted her mindset.

At the time she tested positive, Toronto Public Health had some pretty strict quarantine mandates for people who tested positive, or for people who had close connections with people who had tested positive. The result for my family amounted to a 31 day quarantine/isolation period. I have never been on home arrest, but I can imagine that was what it would feel like.

Earlier this week my son tested positive for COVID. I tested positive for COVID the same day.. Thankfully we are both doing fine in the circumstances. Raspy voice, cold like symptoms, body aches. Nothing terrible and we hope these symptoms don’t worsen.

For most parents with children under the age of 10; the most difficult thing about living with COVID isn’t the COVID itself. It’s having to watch and engage with the children while everyone is isolated at home. It sounds easy; but it isn’t; particularly after a long 2 years of on again, off again lockdowns. It hasn’t been the COVID that’s scared me. It’s the isolation and quarantine. While the quarantine times have shifted from 30 days, down to 15 days, down to 5 days; those days of quarantine add up and remain hard for parents with young children. There is only so much children can tolerate being on lock down inside of their homes. It’s not natural for kids or parents alike.

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Marshall McCluhan coined the term “the medium is the message“.

This means in plain terms, without introducing a PHD thesis on the issue, that chosen method of communication to broadcast a message has a significant impact on how the message is received and understood. It’s almost to say that the way that the message is communicated (print, tweet, TV broadcast, radio), is just as important as the content of the message itself.

This notion that “the medium is the message” is very important when considering the impact which COVID-19 has played on our Courts and how personal injury claims are being litigated today.

This first struck me in the early days of COVID, after my first virtual discovery and my first virtual mediation. I had not done a virtual discovery, or a virtual mediation prior to COVID. Virtual proceedings were the exception and not the rule. It was expected that lawyers and their clients would meet in person for these earmark events in a personal injury case. Sometimes, an insurance adjuster would not be able to attend in person. They would be available over the phone. This was frowned upon because everyone was expected to be there; particularly for a mediation. But sometimes unfortunate life events would happen which prevented an in person attendance. We would proceed nonetheless and hope for the best.

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It’s really hard to say “no” to free money. This is particularly true when times are tough.

The COVID Pandemic has caused many industries to crumble; and in turn, many people to go months and months without pay.

Restaurants, tourism, retail, hospitality, events, personal care and personal service industries all come to mind. Many people have adapted and pivoted to earn a living. But many others have not and continue to experience hard times.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was designed to provide financial support to employed and self-employed Canadians who were directly affected by COVID-19.

The means that you would have needed to be gainfully employed to qualify for the CERB.

For some accident victims and disability claimants, qualifying and claiming the CERB presents a contradiction.

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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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