Many lawyers are boasting from the peaks of the tallest mountains of their ability to work remotely. It’s almost a way to claim intellectual superiority over their peers.
If you that lawyer does solicitors’s work which doesn’t require any litigation or the co-operation of the Court or an Administrative Tribunal, the transition from normalcy to COVID lockdown may be seamless.
If you are a litigation lawyer where there Courts are necessary to adjudicate a dispute; then it’s a completely different story.
There are many unique difficulties which personal injury lawyers across the board are facing. Let me take you behind the scenes so that you can have a better appreciation of what’s taking place.
I have worked at 3 different law firms inclusive of my own law firm Goldfinger Injury Lawyers. The client population is very similar and covers a wide range of socio-economic demographics.
Some of the most injured and most vulnerable don’t have access to proper internet connections or proper phones. These clients were accustomed to relying on a friend or family member to relay a message. They were accustom to in person meetings. They may have been accustomed to to going to a public library to log in to their email. They may have used their local post office or Staples for print, fax and post jobs. These clients may have also relied on their social worker or case manager’s cell phone or email to communicate.
Because we are in the midst of a COVID lockdown, these most vulnerable clients are particularly isolated. Some without proper working phones, cell phones or internet. Some live in remote places without any internet access other than a 30 minute drive in to town for a trip to the local library (which has since closed).
It’s a nasty and desolate island for communicating with clients of limits access and limited means. This becomes particularly difficult for scheduling dates to move the case forward which require a solid phone connection or internet access. A videoconference for Zoom mediation or examination for discovery cannot take place if the Plaintiff Client cannot access the internet. Most Plaintiff personal injury lawyers want to push their cases forward to get to trial. The problem is that the Courts are closed and jury trials (which most personal injury actions are) won’t re-open until at least September .
A Plaintiff without proper telecom access is a case which will be delayed more than that of the average case because there is no way to push the case forward while lawyers aren’t having any in person meetings like exemptions for discovery or mediations. All lawyers are relying on teleconferencing to move cases forward; but how can a Plaintiff without proper access participate in the process for their very own case. By the time things get rolling again, the backlog at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice will be even greater than it was before COVID struck which is saying a lot if you follow the Courts.
A personal injury lawyer cannot get a Release executed by way of Docusign or email if a client does not have internet access. Paper can be exchanged by way of post enclosing a self addressed stamped envelope. But there is no substitute for in person client meetings to get the message straight. This is particularly important when the client is not readily accessible by way of email or over the phone.
In the context of motor vehicle accident cases, there are a lot of forms which need to be completed. Adjusters often send these forms out via email. Clients looking for a personal injury lawyer often meet and get these forms completed with some legal assistance. These in person meetings have stopped (as far as I know). The forms are still getting completed over the phone or over video conference. But, during the COVID lockdown, many of the most vulnerable remain in the dark with respect to what to do.
One step further are those people who are seriously injured and in hospital. Meeting with, or retaining a personal injury lawyer is difficult because in person meetings at hospital are forbidden on account of COVID. Meeting with a third party occupational therapist to ensure that the transition from hospital to home is a smooth one isn’t happening other than perhaps a phone call and a quick peak inside the home while nobody is around. Getting important forms completed to claim insurance benefits is hard because you can’t meet with a lawyer to go over what needs to be completed, and how to do so. There is also nobody advocating on your behalf other than yourself to get the care and attention you need. Did I mention that there’s additional pressure to clear up all of the hospital beds they can in order to accommodate COVID admissions?
After a serious accident, where is one to get treatment and therapy to get better during the COVID lockdown. Your local phyisio or massage clinic is likely closed and not seeing any patients. Home exercises may not be appropriate for you, or may only go so far towards your recovery. Add to that the stress of leaving the house to see your family doctor (if they are seeing patients in person vs. Telehealth). Where are you going to get your assistive devices and who is going to come to your home to install them? Are you able to attend at your local pharmacy without stressing out too much about your injuries or running the risk of infection.
These are all harsh realities which personal injury clients are facing in Ontario during the COVID lockdown.
One of the things which may alleviate these pressures and make lives easier is a working cell phone with a data plan. At the very minimum, this would keep the accident victim in touch with their doctors, hospital, therapist, insurer and legal team. Once that communication ceases between accident victim and any of these parties, the case can quickly sink and making both physical and legal recovery very difficult.