After a seven-month shutdown to protect against COVID-19, Georgia’s courts are just now beginning to reinstitute jury trials, with new social distancing precautions in place. Obviously, no one should have to risk their life or the lives of their family to participate in a trial — their own or someone else’s — but this extended lack of access to the justice system has had disturbing consequences of its own.
Specifically, injured individuals who are counting on insurance settlements to cover their expenses have been left unable to pay for medical care, let alone secure the full compensation they will need to return their lives to normal.
Claimants Have Less Leverage, Leaving Them More Vulnerable to Lowball Offers
Insurance companies know that most of their claimants are currently experiencing greater financial hardships than they normally would, even in the midst of sudden medical expenses. Naturally, this makes them more desperate and willing to accept immediate help, even if it’s far less help than they need or deserve.
Aside from immediate financial concerns, accident survivors are also having trouble accessing non-emergency care, due to COVID-19 precautions at medical facilities. While delaying less urgent care may currently be a better gamble for a patient’s overall health, this practice makes it more difficult for an accident survivor to arrive at a full, accurate estimate of what their long-term recovery will cost.
Add to this the long, uncertain waiting period to have a case heard in front of a jury, and many insurance companies seem to be feeling immune to the law, free to ignore claimants entirely, or to offer them unjustifiably small settlements and essentially tell them to “take it or leave it.”
This problem is surfacing all over the country, with insurance companies being called out and ordered to stop by public officials in some areas, though the effectiveness of such orders remains to be seen.
Even NU Property & Casualty 360, a trade magazine for insurance industry professionals which employs fairly standard pro-insurance company rhetoric, has acknowledged the reports of unethical lowball offers. One interviewed lawyer even described an insurance adjuster taunting him to the effect of, “What will you do? File suit?”
Even with the Courts Reopening, Plaintiffs Face a Long Backlog
Although courts in Georgia and a number of other states are now in the process of resuming jury trials, seven months is a long backlog to work through, especially at the reduced capacity that COVID-19 safety measures will necessitate.
The order to reopen the courts specifically notes that in-person jury trials are particularly urgent for criminal cases, in order to comply with defendants’ constitutional rights. Unfortunately, this means that plaintiffs looking for compensation through civil suits may have even longer to wait.
In the meantime, The Stoddard Firm is using every tool at our disposal to help our clients get fair compensation as quickly as possible, including arranging for jury-free bench trials whenever feasible. If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence and want to know more about how the pandemic will affect your case, reach out to The Stoddard Firm for a free consultation.