What 2020’s Court Closures Mean For 2021

As Covid-19 cases rose throughout the past year, the courts did what they could to protect the health and safety of their staff and visitors. Even during a regular year, law practitioners know that everything from litigations to regulatory filings can be delayed by hours, days, weeks or more. It all depends on staffing and scheduling, both of which were greatly affected by the pandemic. Layoffs and the closing of non-essential offices have led to significant delays and impediments to standard court proceedings from civil and criminal litigation to processing within licensing and compliance departments.

2021 will be a year of catch-up. The waitlist for civil jury trials will likely be extreme. The status of the coronavirus, as well as the new vaccine, are unpredictable to say the least. In-person procedures will be limited at best, non-existent at worst. Virtual appearances for conferences and arguments have become commonplace in the legal practice. Platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been surprisingly efficient and will likely continue to be implemented well into the new year, and possibly become a permanent solution for some types of legal matters. These digital tools will be key to clearing the backlog of cases.

As mentioned, delays were often frustrating and even painful even in pre-Covid times. The issues have now increased exponentially. Mediation, arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution methods will continue to take on a larger role in the legal landscape and should be seriously considered to save time and grief.

Regarding a more tragic development of 2020, the statuses of many lawsuits filed by terminally ill plaintiffs have been left up in the air. Many people who could not afford to stop working or did not have the option to work from home may have been unnecessarily exposed to Covid-19. In addition to the dangers that the virus poses directly, those with existing health conditions are at a much higher risk of life threatening complications.

This has led to many “pain and suffering” lawsuits meant to compensate victims and reform the ways companies protect their employees. However, with the massive delays in court proceedings, many of these plaintiffs face the grim reality that they will pass before making it to trial. In most parts of the United States, the damages from such suits get paid to the families of the deceased should it come to that. However, there are 11 states, including California, where the pain and suffering claim dies with the plaintiff, preventing their family from benefitting.

While the best case is that conditions become safe enough for the courts to operate normally, it is unclear when that will happen. What we can hope for, is that they continue to adapt to current events and find ways to accommodate as many cases as possible without overwhelming their systems.

Our advice to ensure that your lawsuit gets handled in a quick and efficient manner:

First, do everything you’re able to avoid one by taking all necessary precautions beforehand.

If you’re looking to start a business, make sure that all of your paperwork is properly prepared. Operating agreements, shareholder agreements, bylaws, articles of incorporation and organization, joint venture contracts, employment agreements, vendor agreements, independent contractor agreements and more need to be considered, negotiated, and fully executed before moving forward with operations between the parties involved. Otherwise, try to negotiate a settlement but, if litigation proves absolutely necessary, make sure you work with counsel that is transparent and efficient regarding process, delays, probability of success on the merits of your argument, and the fees involved.

Have a legal problem that needs solving? Unsure of how to proceed? Contact us and we’d be happy to help you through it!

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