COVID-19 and Personal Injury Claims: Developing Issues to Consider

Like many facets of the legal industry these days, personal injury claims have also been impacted by the coronavirus. In these extraordinary circumstances, issues are continuing to develop, and there are many things that we simply do not know or cannot predict. However, now is the time to begin thinking about the long-term effects that this health crisis may have on the personal injury field. In our latest blog, we’re discussing items that attorneys should consider as it relates to already-existing personal injury cases, the standard of care, and potential new litigation.

Already Existing Personal Injury Cases

Due to the health crisis, hospitals and health care clinics across the country are treating an unprecedented number of patients. Some of these facilities are prioritizing coronavirus-related care over other non-critical treatment. As a result, clients may find it a challenge to schedule their follow-up care for a personal injury. Without physical therapy or other routine medical care, not only does the client suffer – but their personal injury case may suffer, as well. Without the proper appointments and documentation, it becomes difficult to paint the big picture of the client’s losses and the value of the personal injury case.

With the coronavirus creating so many financial uncertainties for clients, companies, and insurers, attorneys might feel added pressure to settle their cases right now. At-fault insurance companies are motivated to minimize their financial obligations and to pay-out claims. Plaintiffs may be tempted to jump at any offers, in hopes of a quick settlement and an infusion of funds. However, if you and your client can afford to wait, it could pay off in the long run.

Similar to commercial businesses, the civil court system has also taken steps to reduce hours and limit its in-person interactions. Courts are doing their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus. If you have already filed your personal injury case, then you may already be on an upcoming court calendar. However, attorneys need to be prepared for significant court delays or postponement. Many court administrators are moving to teleconferences. As courthouses are changing their statuses quickly and often, you should check with your individual jurisdiction for the latest updates.

A Potentially Changing Duty of Care

As attorneys are well aware, in personal injury law, one party has a duty to another – a legal obligation to act in a reasonable manner to others. When a person or a company fails to act with reasonable care, and harm results, that breach of duty forms the basis of a personal injury lawsuit.

As the health crisis has created a situation unknown and unfamiliar to modern society, it’s not clear how the legal system would define a “reasonable standard of care” as it relates to the coronavirus. We’re still not sure about the long-term effects of the COVID-19. Likely, the reasonable standard for cleanliness and sanitation will become stricter. Business owners may have to rethink their practices to account for an enhanced duty of care to their clients and customers. Similarly, as the public learns more about the seriousness of the virus and the way it’s transmitted, they also might be more observant of business practices and health policies.

New Personal Injury Claims Related to the Coronavirus

Many personal injury claims arise from negligence, meaning that a person or business did not employ the appropriate standard of care under the circumstances.

The CDC has attempted to mitigate any uncertainty about the duty of care by issuing health and safety guidelines for individuals and businesses. While it may be difficult to prove that someone was negligent in their duty, there seems to be a pattern developing as it relates to the virus and potential liability issues.

  • Cruise Ship Liability: Some coronavirus patients have claimed that they contracted the disease while traveling on a cruise ship. If the patient can trace their exposure to the cruise, they may be able to file suit against the cruise ship company for breach of duty of care and failing to take reasonable precautions to protect their health and safety.
  • Exposure at the Workplace: If an employee contracts the virus at their workplace, they could potentially have a personal injury case. However, many workplace injuries and illnesses are redressed exclusively through a state’s workers’ compensation system. Be sure to check your state statutes, as the scope of coverage of exceptions will vary.
  • Medical Malpractice: If a patient contracts the coronavirus while being treated at a hospital or health care clinic, that individual may be able to bring a malpractice claim against the facility. However, medical malpractice claims are a bit different from personal injury claims as they involve a more specific standard of care.
  • Nursing Home Negligence: Elderly individuals seem to be especially vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus, as well as developing severe symptoms. If COVID-19 is brought into a nursing home or transmitted by a negligent staff member, the virus tends to spread rapidly. The infected individual(s) may have a personal injury claim.

Courts are already starting to see personal injury lawsuits directly related to the coronavirus. The volume of litigation will likely grow as the country re-opens, and as we begin to understand more about this disease and its potential long-term effects. Although there is much uncertainty surrounding the standard of care, it is best to be aware of the developing issues and potential claims.

With USClaims, pre-settlement funding can help your clients pay those unexpected expenses in anticipation of a court judgment or settlement. Call 1-877-USCLAIMS today for the information you and your clients need and deserve.

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