The World Health Organization (WHO), about three months ago, declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. This pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives and society. While businesses are being impacted, individuals were affected by unemployment, the ongoing dispute in courts, or personal injury claims. Personal injury claims are disputes that occur when a person suffers an injury or harm from an accident where someone else may be responsible for the damage. (negligent actions or intentional actions).
In this article, I will be discussing the impact COVID-19 may have created on personal injury claims. With the social distancing guidelines and work from home (less need of traveling outside the house), the underlying assumption is that not many vehicle accidents or slip & falls will occur. However, keeping in mind that accidents can still happen despite lockdowns or work from home, this article looks into the impact on medical treatment, and the settlement of a personal injury case in times of COVID-19.
How do I get medical treatment for personal injury during COVID-19?
In most personal injury claims, the claimant would have received some medical treatment as recommended by his physician after the accident. Medical documentation and bills often play a huge role in the claimant’s total compensation award. However, due to the outbreak, several challenges have been created with regards to the treatment for personal injury victims.
Several people may hesitate to visit a hospital for such treatment due to concerns about contracting the virus. However, if an accident has occurred wherein the person requires some medical treatment, then it has been recommended that the claimant keeps his medical appointment. Any delay in getting the necessary treatment would lead to not only improper recovery but also may affect the success of the procedure. For example, a person in need of physiotherapy may not have been able to visit the clinic due to the outbreak. However, this challenge faced by the claimants can be resolved by taking proper precautions.
What documents do I need to show when filing a personal injury claim during Corona?
Whenever one files a claim, they have to show that they took every step in mitigating their losses and following the recommended recovery structure. Such an arrangement is often documented by weekly appointments, progress reports, and any other scans or bills. As stated, documentation depicting the extent of injuries and the cost incurred for recovering from those injuries plays an important role.
Apart from the claimant’s hesitation, the issue that arises is that the waiting period may become longer for filing and settling their case. The other potential reason is the possibility that some appointments, treatments, and procedures may be postponed for a while. With the overflow of patients in hospitals as well as clinics, the medical treatment required may take longer to be completed than usual.
How do I settle a personal injury case in times of the coronavirus?
With the outbreak, several businesses have been forced to shut down or lay off their employees. Such layoffs have led to causing severe financial stress on the people who have been fired. Accident victims who were in the midst of their personal injury case may find themselves with an urgent requirement for money, especially with the layoff. The money from the settlement may be their best hope. The impact of the outbreak thereby directly affects the claimants because insurance agencies may try to offer the lowest possible amount knowing that the claimant may be in an urgent need for money. Such exploitation may not even cover the losses they incurred due to the accident. With the declining economy, the insurance agency is also required to minimize the value of claims and protect their business.
Two possibilities may occur due to the exploitation, i.e., 1) the claimant may settle, causing the insurance agency to profit, or 2) the claimant declines to settle, and the case goes to trial. If the case moves forward with the trial, then the expected time frame of receiving the settlement money may increase. With courts closed and some courts undertaking cases virtually, this has become more of an issue.
Yet another impact that needs to be considered is the impact on uninsured defendants. Several businesses, as stated, are suffering from economic difficulties. Any such company with either no insurance or on the verge of bankruptcy may not be able to pay the victim at all. The claimant may have to wait longer to collect their settlement award, and if bankruptcy is filed, the claimant may never receive the full settlement award.
What if there is negligence in handling a personal injury claim due to COVID-19?
As stated, personal injury claims often arise out of negligent action or intentional actions of another person or business. Businesses like nursing homes continued operations during the pandemic. The question raised is whether contracting COVID-19 can be considered an injury that can be claimed under personal injury. Nursing homes are a perfect example to be found for this. Any improper treatment or negligent action that causes the person to contract COVID-19 could potentially lead to a personal injury claim. The employees working at the nursing homes could contact someone tested positive, thereby infecting the residents of the nursing home. The other possibility is that any appropriate care not taken by an employee of the nursing home, i.e., turning up for work despite flu-like symptoms or fever and being in contact with the residents, would fall under personal injury claim as the person was negligent.
Most nursing homes have elderly people as residents who are vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 and could contract severe symptoms. The impact thereby created is that the number of personal injury cases could increase. The person bringing the claim must show that they suffered harm because the employee or the defendant did not act reasonably even though the exact point at which exposure began is difficult to pinpoint. However, if the employee of a hospital or clinic was sick, then identifying one specific symptom could show that the defendant lacked reasonable care in preventing such employees from having access to vulnerable patients if there is proof that the nursing home did not take appropriate measures in protecting its residents such as checking every employee’s temperature or checking for symptoms, unsanitary conditions or any other inadequate response to the pandemic then a case of personal injury could be made due to the medical service provider’s negligence.
What about the statute of limitations for a personal injury claim during COVID-19?
The last impact created is with courts being shut down. With the court closing down, several claimants may be affected by the Statute of limitations on their claims. For personal injury, most states have two to three years for filing the claim, so any person who hadn’t filed for a claim before the lockdown and was nearing the end of the statute of limitations has been put in an awkward position. However, if the court is accepting electronic filing, then the impact of COVID-19 may not affect the claim itself.
Conclusion: COVID-19 and Negative Impact
Despite every effort by personal injury lawyers, COVID-19 has negatively impacted personal injury claimants in securing a fair resolution for their claim. To achieve a fair result, the claimant must complete his medical recovery and present evidence of the losses incurred. Even there is no ongoing litigation, the settlement itself may take longer than expected as the defendant or insurance companies may not be able to pay or are trying to re-negotiate the settlement. The claimants may come under pressure to settle quickly due to financial insecurities.
By Hrideja Shah, Attorney
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