First of all, let me say how sorry we are for all of those working people who have been displaced by the COVID-19 epidemic. If I tried to name them all I’m sure I would overlook a few, but you know who you are: those of you who work in restaurants, “non-essential” businesses, and everyone else who has faced unemployment during this time.
I can’t imagine how it must be to work in healthcare these days. I met an ICU nurse this past month who deals with COVID-19 cases, but she hasn’t been able to wear PPE because there isn’t enough of it to go around.
I also have clients who work in grocery stores, which are getting more customer traffic than anywhere else these days, and it must be unnerving to have to go to work under these circumstances.
We Are Open
We are fortunate to be among those least affected by the pandemic. We work in a small office where social distancing is no problem. We have met with clients in the past month who come in wearing appropriate PPE. Much of our work under normal circumstances involves telephone calls, e-mails, correspondence and reviewing records. So our workday really hasn’t been affected much at all.
The main impact upon our practice, and lawyers everywhere, has been that we can’t go to court. With everything else that’s been going on, a lot of people may not realize that our courts are closed, except for emergency hearings. The Ky. Supreme Court issued the first Order closing the courts on April 1, through April 30. On April 15 they extended the closure through May 31. That means we won’t be able to file any motions to be heard before the Court until June.
I don’t expect the closure to be extended again. Most businesses are expected to reopen this month for economic reasons, and in a way that’s true for the courts as well. The current closure has already created a nearly 2-month backlog, and it’s just going to get worse if we don’t get back to business soon.
For example, in Jefferson County there are 13 divisions of Circuit Court that hold a “motion hour” each week to hear criminal and civil cases, and it usually takes an hour or more for the court to get through its docket. Sometimes the courts are closed for a holiday or some other reason, so that all of the cases get rolled over to the next week, along with the next week’s cases, so you have a “double docket” which can take twice as long.
I can’t imagine how long the dockets are going to be after an 8-week layoff. Is it going to take a day for each division to get through its docket if normal proceedings resume in June? The courtrooms won’t be able to hold all of the lawyers, much less allow for social distancing. Our court system is going to have to figure out a plan on how they are going to handle this.
Effect on Civil Cases
Depositions have also come to a halt. Lawyers, court reporters and witnesses are not real keen right now about sitting together in a conference room. Many lawyers and court reporters trying to do this with Microsoft Zoom, although Zoom can have a lot of technical issues, and it’s not the same as examining a witness face-to-face.
We have not had any depositions scheduled for the month of May. We have scheduled several depositions during the month of June.
Trial dates, too, are getting rolled. I have a case, already rescheduled a couple of times, that was set for June 23, but that’s gone by the boards.
Workers’ Compensation cases
Workers’ Compensation cases have also been affected. On March 13, 2020, the Department of Workers’ Claims cancelled all in-person benefit review conferences and formal hearings through April 20. That Order was later extended to May 17.
On May 6, however, the Department cancelled all in-person benefit review conferences and hearings until further notice. Administrative Law Judges were ordered to use telephonic or videoconference technology for necessary proceedings.
Lack of Medical Treatment
Another aspect of the pandemic is that our clients’ medical treatment has been interrupted. We have many clients who were actively treating before many medical offices closed for seeing patients in person. As a result, our clients have been delayed in getting the medical treatment they need. This has delayed the settlement process in many cases.
Fortunately, many of these medical offices are starting to reopen under strict compliance with CDC guidelines.
Another effect of the pandemic is that there are fewer cars on the road. For this reason, traffic accidents are down, which means fewer people are being injured. That, at least, is a good thing.
The same is true about workers’ compensation injuries. Since many people have been unable to work in their jobs, or have been required to work from home, I am sure that workers’ compensation injuries are down, too.
What We’re Doing.
We are still in the office every day doing what we can to move our clients’ cases forward. We have been getting a lot of work done in the office, because we have not had any hearings or depositions getting in the way. This has been a good thing in making sure we are staying on top of our clients’ cases. But we are looking forward to things becoming a little more normal once June arrives.
Hang in there!