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.
- An insistence by certain insurers to conduct everything they possibly can in person. Plaintiff lawyers have seen some lawyers already requesting in person discoveries. Why? Not too sure. What the Pandemic has show us is that video conference for discoveries is fast, cost effective and convenient. It accomplishes the same goal (the goal of discovering the case) as did in person discoveries without putting anyone’s health at risk during a Global Pandemic and without any travel time. If the goal of the lawyer is to intimidate the deponent; or shout at them in person; or to belittle an unsophisticated accident victim; then without a doubt this can be accomplished much better in person. But if that’s the goal of an examination for discovery; then we all really need to take a hard look at our litigation system and ask ourselves why we are doing this to litigants. Cases ought to be decided on their merits on not on who yells the loudest and who makes the other person feel like…..
- We predict a rise in personal injury cases across the board. We believe that people have spent so long cooped up at home that we’ve forgotten how to share public spaces and interact with strangers. Roads, sidewalks, shopping malls, parking lots, stores will all become battle fields because people will have ideas about their space not being infringed upon. This theory also doesn’t take into consideration people simply acting out because they’ve got back a taste of freedom and living under fewer restrictions. Want to drive fast just for the hell of it? Sure! Drinking too much at a party because you’re around people again? Yes to that. Out at the bar way too late because you haven’t been out to a bar in 1.5 years? Yup. All of these ingredients are recipes for disaster which we suspect will happen as the world continues to open up. But if these predictions come to pass it’s not unexpected. People will act foolishly because their rights and freedoms have been restricted for so long.
- Less commuting to/from work accidents because fewer people will need to go into the office. But more accidents all around due to the reasons set out above. Most people I have spoken to anticipate that working from home (at least for part of the work week) will continue into the future. This may translate to fewer people on the roads driving to/from work and less likelihood of car accidents. But we suspect the accident trend for those morning and afternoon commutes will still continue.
- An increase in depression, anxiety and mental health claims. If the Pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that not only is mental health very real, but it can happen to anyone and can be completely debilitating. For many people, their apartments/condos have been their homes, workspaces, childcare spaces, kitchens, fitness spaces and rest spaces. These tiny apartments were not meant to be used like this. Waking up and going to bed in the same setting where there is no division between work, rest and play is very difficult and takes a serious toll. Add to that the fact these spaces are often being shared with partners and family members; you are creating a situation making living very difficult. Our office has seen a spike in mental health related long term disability claims over the Pandemic and believe this may continue into the future.
- Greater delays to have your day in Court. Before the Global Pandemic there was already a backlog of cases in the civil justice system. Most of those civil cases were personal injury cases! The fact the Courts have not been hearing as many cases as they once did over the course of the Global Pandemic means that the backlog of cases has gotten even greater. Having your day in Court will take even longer. A personal injury lawyer can guesstimate that it would take a number of years to have your case heard; from opening the file, issuing the Statement of Claim; conducting Examinations for Discovery, any motions, Mediation, Pre-Trial followed by a Trial. Those guesstimates used to be around 3-5 years. Now that window has likely exceeded that amount. But by how much we don’t know as we have yet to see the true results of the case backlog on the Courts.
- Continued E-filing and the death of the process server in Court houses. Before COVID, personal injury lawyers needed to pay process servers to wait in very long lines to file documents with the Court and get stamped by a registrar. It was a waste of time for process servers to wait in some cases hours to get some documents filed, when they could have been emailed. COVID has forced the Courts to adapt and pivot to e-filing. Now lawyers and litigants can e-file their documents and save time and money not needing to attend at Court and wait in line fro documents to be filed. This is a game changer for everyone across the board. Unfortunately, it results in less business for process servers as they aren’t needed to wait in those long lines at Courthouses nearly as much.